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4 dead after driver crashes into Salem homeless camp

SALEM, Ore. (AP) — A driver crashed a car into a homeless encampment in Salem early Sunday morning, killing four people and injuring three more, including the driver, authorities said.

Police arrested Enrique Rodriguez Jr., 24, Sunday evening. Rodriguez was charged with four counts of first-degree manslaughter, second- and third-degree assault and six counts of reckless endangerment.

In a statement, police said they believed “alcohol may have been a contributing factor” in the crash.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether Rodriguez had retained a lawyer.

Nathan Rose told the Salem Statesman Journal that he and his girlfriend were in their tent when they heard two loud thuds. The car just missed their tent, Rose said.

Rose said he saw some of his friends pinned under the car and called 911. He said he helped pull one person from under the car but witnesses were unable to help the others.

“From there, it was just chaos,” Rose told the newspaper.

Police said in a statement Sunday afternoon that the driver was the only occupant of the two-door sports coupe.

The crash happened at about 2 a.m. Sunday near a new men’s shelter, which has beds for about 300 people, and a program that offers emergency housing assistance and other services for the homeless.

The camp is a small triangle of trees and grass, not far from the Willamette River.

Two people who were at the encampment died at the scene. Four others were taken to Salem Health with with life-threatening injuries, and two died at the hospital. The driver was also taken to the hospital.

Officials have not released the victims’ names or the conditions of those who remained hospitalized.

Jimmy Jones, executive director of the Mid-Willamette Valley Community Action Agency, said homeless people spend much of their day trying to find a safe place to sleep and rest, “but events like this remind us that there is no safe space.”

The crash comes after Washington, D.C., police arrested a man earlier this month who is suspected of stalking and shooting homeless people asleep on the streets of New York City and the nation's capital.

“No one deserves to have to live in unsheltered conditions, and they damn sure do not deserve to die in them,” Jones said. “Tragedies like this will continue until this nation makes a serious commitment to the idea that housing is a human right, and that everyone deserves a warm, safe and dry place where they can live with dignity.”

More than 1,000 people sleep outside in the Salem area on any given night, the newspaper reported. The city has a population of over 175,000, according to the 2020 U.S. census.

Mike Wade came to the camp after hearing one of his close friends had died. He helped others in the camp salvage their belongings and prayed for the victims.

“It gets me weaker every day hearing about us die one by one,” Wade said. “My friends are dead and I don’t know what to say.”