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White City shooting spurs neighborhood patrol

A White City man whose home was hit with a bullet during a drive-by shooting Saturday says the best way to fight fire is with fire.

Tucker Campagna, a 35-year-old former Marine, said he has been patrolling his Avenue H neighborhood with a high-capacity, magazine-fed AR15-style rifle and .45-caliber handgun strapped to his hip for a few hours each evening since Sunday, waiting and watching.

A pair of his neighbors have joined in on the armed community watch, he said, which will carry on until the residents are confident in the safety of their neighborhood on the northern outskirts of White City.

Jackson County Sheriff's Department and Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement detectives are investigating the drive-by shooting, which sent the echo of gunfire across the neighborhood just before 9 p.m. Saturday but injured no one.

Sheriff's Sgt. Nathan Sickler said investigators have recovered several 9 mm bullet casings but declined to reveal how many, citing the ongoing investigation.

He said police have been receiving tips related to the shooting.

The vehicle involved is described as a older-model, red Honda sedan, which Campagna said he could identify.

Sickler said police have not determined why the drive-by occurred, though the neighborhood has been plagued with gang activity.

"We don't know if this was just a random act or if there were specific gang ties to this shooting yet," Sickler said. "It's really not safe to assume anything at this point."

The neighborhood surrounding the intersection of Atlantic Avenue and Avenue H, where the drive-by shooting took place, is a mix of newly developed houses and aging trailer homes.

One residence near the intersection, a manufactured home in the 3800 block of Avenue H, was the target of a drive-by shooting in July 2009, Sickler said.

Two known Norteños gang members used to live in the home, but have since moved out, Sickler said. A few weeks before the 2009 shooting, the neighborhood was the scene of suspected gang violence when a group of teens threatened to beat two boys with a baseball bat. The group dispersed after the boys' father fired a shot into the air, officials said at the time.

"It's been pretty quiet since then," Campagna said, who has lived in the neighborhood for just over six years. "I know that a former gang member was living there and got busted."

According to Jackson County property data, the owner of the home is Thomas Balero, whose sons were affiliated with the Norteños gang, Sickler said. Oregon Judicial Department records show 24-year-old Romauldo Balero faced criminal charges of eluding police, tampering with evidence and theft while he lived in the home in 2008 and 2010.

It doesn't appear that Thomas Balero's home was hit with any bullets, Sickler said. Nearby residents, including Campagna, said they were glad and described Balero as a nice man.

Attempts to reach Thomas Balero were unsuccessful. Gates leading into Balero's driveway were closed Tuesday and Wednesday.

Saturday night, Campagna was sitting inside his home with his 5- and 7-year-old sons when he heard the clack-clack of gunfire and then a "thud" against his house before running outside.

"It was dark, all I could see was the taillights and a muzzle flashing from the car," said Campagna, adding that the car was traveling west toward Highway 62. The bullet struck the roof about 30 feet from his front door and went through an eave, lodging in the wall.

Campagna, who said he deployed for one tour in Afghanistan in 2001, said he decided to start patrolling his neighborhood's streets armed because the response time of police to the area is typically slow, and he is afraid that if suspected gang activity is not met head on, its quick-to-flee perpetrators will not question committing further crime.

"Every time we've called police they've showed up, but it seems like they are overwhelmed," Campagna said. "It's irritating that we spend all this money on things like deputies writing tickets to people who aren't wearing life jackets, and then we have a drive-by shooting and no one to patrol."

Griselda Lopez-Marney, who shares a driveway with Campagna, said she is glad he is patrolling the streets armed.

Her home was also hit with a stray bullet in Saturday's drive-by shooting and her shed was burglarized two months ago, she said.

Lopez-Marney, 54, wasn't home Saturday evening, but she found a bullet lodged in the wall near her front window upon returning Tuesday.

"I don't want to become a victim, I don't want to become a statistic," she said. "It could have seriously injured me or killed me."

On the other side of Avenue H, some residents aren't so sure about Campagna's tactics.

"There is nothing wrong with patrolling your own house, but you're not going to try to start patrolling my house with a gun," said Robbie Lowden. "If you want to do a neighborhood watch, there is nothing wrong with walking down the street with a flashlight, but not a gun."

Lowden and his wife, Brandie, said they were home in bed Saturday when the drive-by shooting took place and heard about eight shots.

"We heard the shots and the tires," Robbie Lowden said. "That scared the crap out of us to the point of we're probably going to move."

Brandie Lowden said the couple has lived in the neighborhood for about two and a half years.

Brandie Lowden said she doesn't agree with Campagna's reaction to the shooting and feels his action could cause more harm than good.

"What if whoever did it sees him out there, then what?" she asked. "Having a neighborhood watch is one thing, but you shouldn't be walking down the street with a gun."

Campagna said he and a few other residents in the neighborhood, who did not respond to the Mail Tribune's requests for comment, patrol along Avenue H between its intersection with Atlantic Avenue and White Mountain Middle School, about a half mile away.

Trina and Beeny Nunez, 28, who also live near the intersection of Avenue H and Atlantic Avenue, said they were frightened by the drive-by shooting, but they are skeptical about Campagna's armed neighborhood watch.

Neither were home when the shooting occurred, they said.

"I have young kids, we could have been home, we could have been inside and what if a bullet would have hit my 5-year-old or 7-year-old?" Trina Nunez said. "It's something I was not expecting or wanting to have happen. We didn't move here to lose our lives, we moved here to make them better."

Trina Nunez, 28, said she understands Campagna's frustration with the lack of police patrols in the area, and "people have a right to protect themselves, they are stepping up and they aren't going to take it ... but it could lead to accidents."

"I don't allow guns, I don't like guns," she said. "I figure if you've got a beef with somebody, you better take it up with your hands."

There is nothing illegal about Campagna's armed neighborhood watch, police said. According to Oregon Revised Statute 161.219, Campagna has the right to use deadly force if another person is threatening him with imminent danger of serious bodily injury or death.

As long as he feels threatened, Campagna said he will continue patrolling "just looking for something."

"If you let this type of thing go on too long, it becomes not fixable," he said.

Sickler acknowledged Campagna isn't breaking any laws, but cautioned against his approach to the problem.

"A neighborhood watch is great ... it's his right to do what he doing, so the sheriff's office isn't going to go in and say he can't do what he is doing," Sickler said. "But we certainly don't want to encourage vigilante justice or rogue patrols. ... We certainly don't encourage or condone a vigilante squad."

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

Tucker Campagna, 35, has started patrolling his White City neighborhood with a semi-automatic weapon after he found a bullet from a drive-by shooting lodged in his house Saturday. - Bob Pennell