Mentally ill Estacada teen sought help before fatal crash

Matthew Daniel Ingle

By Steven Mayes, The Oregonian

Matthew Daniel Ingle checked himself into psychiatric wards three times in the 28 days before his fatal encounter with a Eagle Creek mother and daughter.

He knew something was wrong.

Then, on April 25, high on marijuana and in the grip of schizophrenic delusions, Ingle blew through a red light on U.S. 26 west of Sandy and slammed into a car driven by Pamela L. Benson.

Ingle thought aliens or possibly the “Holy Spirit” controlled his 1987 Toyota 4Runner. Both Benson and her 11-year-old daughter, Clarice, were killed.

It was the tragic intersection of two innocent people and a teenager who knew he was losing touch with reality.

On Tuesday, Clackamas County Circuit Court Judge Thomas J. Rastetter found Ingle, 18, guilty except for insanity of second-degree manslaughter. He will spend 20 years under the state Psychiatric Security Review Board’s supervision. Ingle will go to the Oregon State Hospital and the board will determine when he might be released or returned to the community.

Members of Benson’s family agreed with the sentence, saying she was a compassionate woman who would want Ingle treated mercifully.

The family “has shown tremendous strength,” said Steven Mygrant, a Clackamas County deputy district attorney. “Their loss was immeasurable” but they were true to Pamela Benson’s wishes, Mygrant said.

Her husband, Jon Benson was less forgiving. “I have no mercy for you. The mercy comes from those you killed,” said Benson in a written statement. “We survivors owe you nothing.”

Kathy Pollock, Jon Benson’s mother, described “a family torn apart in a split second.” She said she wanted Ingle to know something about the people who died at his hands.

Pamela Benson was a devoted wife and mother. A warm and empathetic woman who worked as a speech pathologist and delighted “in teaching children to communicate.”

Clarice was a sweet and generous girl who easily attracted friends. She bubbled with curiosity and creativity. She checked out 2,200 library books over the last four years of her life. She wrote poems. She had a horse named Angel.

Since the deadly crash, Ingle, an Estacada resident, has been in the Clackamas County jail. He takes medication that stifles his delusions and seemed lucid in court.

Ingle cried at times as he listened to Pollock. His mother, who sat in the front row of the courtroom, also wept.

“I’m terribly sorry,” said Ingle, who spoke softly. “I wish there was more I could do.”

On the day of the crash, Ingle had taken prescription anti-depressant and anti-psychotic drugs. After the collision, Ingle told an investigator that a spaceship might have “locked on” to his steering wheel. A friend told investigators that Ingle took an antacid to give him “white light” that would ward off the devil.

Such thoughts prompted Ingle to check himself into psychiatric hospitals, spending 21 days as a patient in the four weeks before the crash.

“He recognizes the enormity of what happened at his hands,” Ingle’s attorney, Terrance McCauley said. “I suspect Mr. Ingle will be the very best human being he can be … because of what he caused.”

–Steve Mayes

Rain Garden: 29-Unit Housing Complex Offers Mentally Ill Independent Living

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From its inception, Wilsonville complex for people with mental illness unlike any other in country

by Dana Tims
The Oregonian

Gwen Watson

Rain Garden offers mentally ill adults independent living

WILSONVILLE — Gwen Watson picked up her acoustic guitar, gently placed her fingers along the frets and softly launched into John Denver’s “My Sweet Lady.”

Her silky soprano soared effortlessly into the song’s upper register as she plucked the steel strings in mistake-free accompaniment.

For all her musical virtuosity, 51-year-old Watson is the first to say her life hasn’t always been this in tune.

“Starting at age 17 and lasting for the next 21 years, I was so medicated that I was living in unreality,” she said. “The drugs they gave me were the drugs they give murderers.”

After decades of living in adult group homes and struggling with mental illness, Watson finally has a place of her own at Rain Garden Apartments, a 29-unit housing complex for adults with mental illness that officially opens Friday.

It’s a place unlike any other in the country.

Rain Garden, along with two group homes and two apartment complexes for adults with mental illness, is situated squarely among the 700 upscale houses and condos at Wilsonville’s Villebois “urban village.” Developers, along with state and county mental health experts, say this is the first place in the United States where mental-health housing was part of a larger master-planned community from its inception.

“We had to go back to Washington, D.C., to ask for federal guidance on how we do this,” said Ruby Kadlub, founder of Costa Pacific, which developed Villebois. “They said they couldn’t tell me, because it hadn’t ever been done before.”

The land’s history has everything to do with why new residents such as Watson finally have a place to call home.

From 1961 until 1995, Dammasch State Hospital was located here. Hailed at its opening as a national model for progressive treatment regimens, the hospital eventually succumbed to the move to deinstitutionalize the mentally ill.

Legislators, recognizing that Dammasch had been dedicated to mental-health uses, passed a bill stipulating that money from its sale to private developers be set aside for grants to groups wanting to build housing there for people with mental illness.

As a result, Villebois’ rows of townhouses, condos and detached single-family houses include 10 acres that will eventually be filled with projects such as Rain Garden.

With the exception of one Villebois resident who complained about the inclusion early on, the ability to blend adults with mental illness into the larger population has been seamless.

“We’ve spent a lot of time out there dispelling myths about mental illness,” said Cindy Becker, director of Clackamas County’s Department of Human Services. “The goal is to have people integrated, so no one even knows they live in a mental-health facility.”

Rain Garden’s tenants range in age from 18 to mid-60s, said Royce Bowlin, senior director of residential treatment services for Cascadia Behavioral Healthcare, which provides round-the-clock on-site services for residents.

Residents come from a variety of places, including group homes, family situations or the state hospital. All are screened to ensure they are capable of living on their own, he said.

“With proper medication management and regimen of counseling, these folks are able to function at a remarkably high level,” said Dennis Keenan, executive director of Catholic Charities of Oregon, Rain Garden’s owner and developer. “These folks are fitting right in there.”

Watson quickly agreed.

“I love it here,” she said. “I just love it. It’s first-class all the way.”

In the three weeks since moving from a group home in Tigard, she has taken her first guitar lesson, decorated her studio apartment with heart-felt items such as a rug her mother wove for her and started venturing regularly to Villebois’ Sunday farmers’ market.

“I understand what it’s like to hit rock bottom and be all alone,” she said. “I’m finally in a place where I don’t think that will ever happen again. Believe me, I couldn’t be happier.”

— Dana Tims; danatims@news.oregonian.com