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Falls takes lead in race for sheriff

Corey Falls took a large lead in the race for sheriff of Jackson County into the night and was within reach of winning the election outright.

With 41.5 percent of the vote counted, numbers released at 10 p.m. by the Jackson County Elections Office had Falls with 20,281 votes, or 46.3 percent. Winters' had 13,176 votes, or 30.1 percent, while Sergi had 10,215 votes, or 23.3 percent.

If one man garners 50 percent of the vote plus one, he'll run unopposed in the November general election. Otherwise, the top two vote-getters will run against each other in the general election.

"I feel good with where we are at this point, especially this being the first time going through something like this and not knowing what to expect," said Falls. "Our strategy was just to run a professional campaign, just to get the message out that I was going to be a candidate that was going to be open and responsive to the community."

The deputy chief of the Ashland Police Department, Falls, 41, has 17 years of law enforcement experience between Washington's city of Bothell Police Department, Washington's Snohomish County Sheriff's Office and Ashland Police Department.

"I didn't know what to expect. I knew that any high percentage would be a good thing," Falls said. "Win or lose or wherever I end up, I really appreciated the support I received from the community."

With 41.5 percent of the votes counted at 10:30 p.m., Falls, who was watching election results from home with his family and a few campaign committee members, said he was planning to stay up and await further results.

Winters and Sergi did not return multiple phone messages seeking comment about the early results.

Winters, 56, has 29 years of law enforcement experience between Ashland Police Department, Oregon State Police and Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

Sergi, 58, a sheriff's lieutenant, has 34 years of law enforcement experience between police departments in Long Beach, Calif., and Medford and the Jackson County Sheriff's Department.

Early in the evening, Sergi and a group of his campaign volunteers and supporters were gathered at Bobbio's Pizza in Central Point watching election results.

Throughout the months-long campaign, Falls and Sergi have criticized Winters for his regional approach to law enforcement, in which deputies take on assignments outside of the county, arguing they have more productive strategies for allocating resources.

Sergi and Falls have specifically spoken out against Winters' aviation program, which frequently contracts helicopters to remove marijuana plants in other counties.

Winters argues that all but about 20 percent of the about $450,000 cost of the aviation program over the last three years has been paid for with federal grants and reimbursed contract work with other agencies.

According to the Sheriff's Office 2013 annual report, the aviation program accounted for less than a half of a percent of the department's budget that year.

Falls said expanding the corrections department and patrol and detective divisions at the sheriff's office would be one of his top priorities, and said he is certain he can find ways to rework the department's budget to allow for hiring more deputies.

Falls said he would not send resources outside Jackson County unless there was an immediate-need or mutual-aid call requesting those resources.

He said he recognizes that the sheriff's office faces a lack of resources, but believes with the right management practices the department can become more efficient in its call responses and crime solving.

A January vote by the Jackson County Sheriff's Employee Association showed most members do not support Winters' re-election campaign.

Of the roughly 130 members who are a part of the association, about 100 were present to cast their vote for whom they supported in the race for sheriff, said JCSEA president and sheriff's Deputy Ben Fazio.

Fazio said 52 percent voted for Sergi, 29 percent voted for Falls, 15 percent didn't vote and 4 percent voted for Winters.

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