Accountability Oakland Tribune / Argus

Argus Investigation: Embattled Former CEO has Left Several Positions Under Pressure

Copley Has History of Turmoil

Embattled Former CEO has Left Several Positions Under Pressure

By Rob Kuznia and Rob Dennis

NEWARK — John Copley was convincing. He had the vision and the experience that seemingly made him an excellent choice to lead the chamber of commerce.

But the man who was arrested Friday on suspicion of embezzlement also had a past that the Newark chamber didn’t know about.

Copley — who resigned as the president and CEO of the cash-drained North Silicon Valley Newark chamber under increasing pressure from its members — left at least three previous leadership positions under cloudy circumstances during the past 12 years, sources told The Argus. He also changed his name at least once, according to Social Security records.

In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the man the Newark business community knew as Copley was working under the name of John Rodgers and was a volunteer minister at a Sacramento-area church, former associates said. He later worked as chairman of the Democratic Party of Sacramento County and executive director of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce, they said.

All of those jobs appear to have ended in turmoil, according to sources and news articles, although some of the same people also said Copley was a hard worker and an able organizer.

Before the Newark chamber hired Copley in March 2000, chamber officials conducted a reference check that turned up nothing questionable, they said. But the chamber did not conduct a background check because it was not standard practice at the time, said the Rev. Ed Moore, a chamber board member who served on the hiring committee at the time.

In October, police began investigating the finances of the chamber.

Copley, two days before he resigned, said he did nothing illegal.

“If I was doing something wrong or illegal with all this coming up, I would have been out of here and gone,” he said.

Copley, 39, who has been working for two months at the Billy DeFrank Lesbian and Gay Community Center in San Jose, refused to answer questions for this story.

“I will respond to those questions in the appropriate manner in the appropriate time,” he said in a telephone message left at The Argus at 1:44 a.m. the day after a reporter tried to talk with him at his San Jose office.

A background investigation by The Argus turned up several instances in which Copley left leadership roles amid controversy, although he never was accused of breaking any laws.

In 1990, a month after a bimonthly newspaper published a story stating that he commonly and falsely claimed to be an ordained minister, Copley — then John Rodgers — resigned as co-chairman of Sacramento’s Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation. The newspaper, Mom Guess What!, has been focusing on gay and lesbian issues since its inception in 1978.

Rodgers, according to the article, had served as a volunteer minister at Metropolitan Community Church, a Protestant church for gays and lesbians in the Sacramento area. But he stepped down in 1989 after his credentials were investigated by a church official, the Rev. Ed Sherriff, who determined Rodgers had not been ordained.

Sherriff, who died in 1999, determined that Rodgers was not an ordained Methodist minister and did not have the credentials he claimed, said the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Elder Freda Smith.

“He was very convincing,” Smith said of Rodgers. “He certainly knew quite a bit about churches.”

Then-GLAAD member Mary Smith told Mom Guess What! in the 1990 article, “It never occurred to me to question that he (Rodgers) wasn’t a real minister — he was always wearing that collar.”

After leaving the GLAAD job, Rodgers moved into the political sphere, becoming heavily involved with the Democratic Party of Sacramento County.

Robert Jordan, a party employee, said he met Rodgers at another Sacramento gay and lesbian organization in late 1989.

“He kind of disappeared for a while after those articles came out,” said Jordan, adding he did not see Rodgers again until 1993 or early 1994.

“He was a member of a young Democrats club,” Jordan said. “He said his name was Copley, but I recognized him from before.”

Rodgers had changed his last name to Copley in the early 1990s.

Copley established himself as a talented activist for the party, sources said. In 1997, after managing the campaign headquarters, Copley became
chairman of the county party, a volunteer position in which he performed well, sources said.

“This guy was clearly a hard worker,” said Bruce Pomer, who succeeded Copley as chairman. “I thought him to be a very competent chair who ran a very tight ship.”

Copley, however, left the party on bad terms, and money was the source of the problem, said Virginia Moose, who has served as the party’s treasurer for 17 years.

At issue was about $4,800 Copley used to buy fliers and postcards to advertise candidates the party endorsed, according to bills obtained by The Argus.

Because Copley told Moose the mailers were an in-kind contribution, “we sent out many more mailers than we could afford,” she said.

The party later received an overdue bill from Allied Printing Co. for about $4,800, and a call from an accountant at the shop, Moose said.

“Allied Printing had been told I was out of town and that’s why the bill wasn’t paid,” Moose said. “That was not true.”

Moose never took any formal action.

“It didn’t occur to me to sue him (Copley),” she said. “I just wanted him to get out of here.”

At the time, Copley also was serving as a campaign manager for his roommate, Sam Ciraulo, who was running for the Los Rios Community College Board of Trustees, she said. The pair shared a home in North Sacramento, records show.

Ciraulo, who wound up losing the Los Rios bid, moved to Fremont in August and again was Copley’s roommate. He ran unsuccessfully in November for a seat on the Ohlone College board of trustees.

In Sacramento, Moose and Jordan both said Copley was criticized for allocating more resources to Ciraulo’s race than to those of other candidates.

And the party, whose two-year budget was about $22,000, ended up $5,000 in debt, Moose said.

Moose said she told Copley that if he ran for chair again, she would go public with her suspicions. She said Copley declined a nomination to run
again for chairman in January 1999.

Pomer, who succeeded Copley in the chair position, said while he had a good relationship with him at the Democratic Party, Copley left the office in disarray by taking all of the records.

“It seemed real traumatic at the time,” he said. “I didn’t have anything.”

While volunteering for the Democrats, Copley was working full time as an executive assistant for Roberts & Associates in Sacramento, a company that raises funds for politicians, spokeswoman Toni Roberts said.

“He did a really good job. I completely trusted him,” she said, adding that “John, at the time, really wanted to leave and take another job. He in
essence felt underemployed.”

In 1999, Copley was hired as executive director of the El Dorado County Chamber of Commerce. But he left in January 2000 and “is not eligible for rehire,” said Laurel Brent-Bumb, who occupies the top paid spot — now called the chief executive officer.

Brent-Bumb would not say whether Copley was terminated, offering only that he did not resign.

“There was not a financial issue here,” she added.

In February 2000 — about a month after Copley left the El Dorado County chamber — he responded to a job posting for the top position at the Newark Chamber of Commerce, mem-ber Mike Donohue said.

At the time, the chamber had been without an executive director since August 1999, when Sandy Young resigned, and one person had turned down its job offer, Donohue said.

A chamber committee of about six members — whose primary goal was an increase in membership — quickly whittled the candidates to Copley and one other person, members say.

“He interviewed well,” Donohue said. “He had the answers we were looking for.”

Moore, another committee member, agreed.

“To the best of my knowledge, we all agreed he would be the best for the chamber.” Moore said. “There was no debate.”

The chamber did not conduct a background search and never had for past candidates, Moore said.

Helbush said she was not sure if the chamber still has Copley’s resume, and she would not provide any information it contains because it is a personnel matter, she said.

“It would be helpful to work with the benefit of hindsight, but we can only move into the future by learning from our mistakes,” Moore said.

Moore said the group checked more than three references listed on Copley’s resume. However, he said, he wishes the group had asked whether the organizations would have rehired Copley.

Shortly after the chamber hired him, Copley changed his title from executive director to president and chief executive officer. The bylaws were rewritten, listing the president/CEO — Copley — as the treasurer.

Under his leadership, the chamber started Newark’s first farmers market. Copley also did a stellar job as head organizer for the Newark Days Parade in September, members said. He tapped into his connections to line up Grand Marshal Mervyn Fernandez, a former Los Angeles Raiders standout.

Another Copley coup came in April, when chamber member Pat Danielson was named one of California’s six Small Business Advocates of 2002.

Copley also became involved with Ohlone College, serving as the fund-raising chairman for the committee supporting its March $150 million bond election. He served as chairman of Ohlone’s bond oversight committee until trustees removed him from the position following his resignation from the chamber.

And after some last-minute maneuvering, Copley wooed Lt. Gov. Cruz Bustamante to town for a speech — although his appearance was uncertain until days before the April event.

But Copley also caused some strain among chamber members, beginning when he decided to change the name of the Tri-City area’s oldest chamber to the North Silicon Valley Newark Chamber of Commerce.

Although state law required the general membership to approve the name change, only the 18-member board of directors voted on it last year, former Chairwoman Helbush said.

But a document filed with the secretary of state in May 2001 indicated the general membership had approved the change. It was signed by both Copley and Sheri Flister, then the chamber president.

The name change — meant to increase membership — angered many members who said it undermined the city’s independent spirit. Membership numbers, meanwhile, remained steady — about 300 — chamber members say. On Jan. 15, chamber members voted to change the name back to the Newark Chamber of Commerce.

Other members were disappointed by the low turnout at the chamber’s business exposition and trade show in April 2002. Several demanded booth fee refunds.

But the discontent did not boil over until June 2002, when chamber members began sending mass e-mails containing concerns about various issues, including money, Copley’s title as treasurer and the name change.

Others were skeptical of his repeated claims that he was a member of the Copley newspaper family, which owns the San Diego Union-Tribune. A Union-Tribune official said John Copley is not part of the Copley family. Copley also falsely claimed that the family at one time owned The Argus.

The city, meanwhile, which had been donating about $50,000 to the chamber annually, grew wary of the organization’s financial state and withheld its 2002 donation, City Manager Al Huezo said. The city never pursued any records to verify its financial concerns, he added.

“You have to understand, for a time, some chamber members were leery of the city’s closeness (to the chamber),” Huezo said. “So we kind of purposefully took a step back.”

But times have changed.

On Jan. 16, the chamber accepted the city’s offer of up to $30,000, plus a year of free rent of a city-owned building — amounting to more than $25,000 — on several conditions, including the resignation of its six executive board members.

The city approved less money than in past years because of the ailing economy, Huezo said.

Now the beleaguered chamber is regrouping.

The two other employees were laid off in October. Helbush and others had been volunteering at the office, which shaved its weekly operating hours from 40 to 15.

The members on Jan. 15 also passed a new set of bylaws that created a separate treasurer position.

Most agree that things seem to be on the upswing. But Donohue, who apologized in a mass e-mail for helping to hire Copley, said the reorganization should have happened much sooner.

“We should have known, we should have known,” he said. “It took two years to figure it out.”

Accountability Oakland Tribune / Argus

Expensive Gift – Newark Unified faces costs of ‘super deal’

It was, in the words of a Sun Microsystems spokesman, a “super duper deal.”

Two years ago, the tech giant supplied the Newark Unified School District with 500 Sun Ray computers, software, and technical support – a deal that was touted as being worth $1 million a year – as part of a four-year, $250,000-a-year contract. Sun, which employs some 3,000 people in Newark, later donated an additional 700 Sun Rays and a year’s free training to Newark Unified.

“We’re making a very big investment in this market,” said Robert Iskander, Sun’s product development director for the K-12 market at the time.

The district, as it turns out, is making a big investment, too.

In the past two years, Newark Unified’s technology budget has swelled from $340,000 to about $1 million. In fact, the cash-strapped district will spend $1.3 million this year, including a $307,000 state grant to connect the Sun Rays and the district’s 1,800 IBM computers to a single “thin client” network.

The network, it is hoped, will end a litany of complaints about the Sun Rays from teachers and parents. Meanwhile, at least two members of the board of trustees have started to question the costs.

“If someone buys me a $50,000 car and it breaks down, do I just leave it on the road? Of course not,” said Michael Dodge, assistant superintendent of business for the district. “The board made a commitment to technology. You don’t turn around and walk away from it.”

The $1.3 million figure came to light after trustees Janice Schaefer and Ray Rodriguez asked district officials for an accounting of the technology costs.

“The grand total keeps going up,” Schaefer said.

“In my mind, I knew that $250,000 was not going to be a sum total,” she added. “Technology is not just hardware.”

And Schaefer’s husband, Jay, a technology professional and a member of the district’s technology committee, questions the practicality of the district’s investment. Systems the size of Newark’s, he says, typically cost $2 million a year to maintain.

“Their biggest sticker is they just don’t have the revenue streams to do it,” said Schaefer, former chief technology officer of a San Francisco company.

To go with the 1,200 computers, the district has spent $180,000 to purchase about 30 servers, at $4,500 each, and a $20,000 piece of software called Tarantella, which enables Sun Ray users to access Windows-based applications.

In addition, Ted Hashiguchi, the district’s technology director, still needs at least 10 more servers to complete the “thin client” project, Dodge said.

“They just don’t have the monies to get the staff in there and support this hardware,” Jay Schaefer said. “Ted’s doing a good job, but he’s stuck with what he’s got.”

The district cannot afford to give Hashiguchi much help. Trustees made $1 million in program cuts last June – including two full-time teaching
positions, a full-time administrative position and $66,000 each from the elementary science and English as a Second Language programs.

Trustees and district officials have said cuts were necessary for several reasons, including an across-the-board 10 percent raise two years ago, decreased enrollment and energy costs.

And trustees may have to make more cuts this year, after Dodge discovered a $464,000 error officials say happened under a former administrator.

Much of the technology money, Dodge points out, can’t be used for general fund purchases. For example, the district is propping up the technology budget with more than $400,000 of its annual lottery funds, most of which goes to the company that is maintaining the existing Sun network, Dodge said. Under state law, lottery money cannot be used for salaries, though it can be used for books and supplies.

Other costs this year include the annual payment to Sun, reduced to $125,000 after a subcontractor was unable to provide promised support, the “thin-client” project being covered by the state grant, and:

*$350,100 for salaries and supplies.

*$180,000 for purchasing Internet access from the county.

*$64,795 for a piece of records-keeping software enabling the district to
take attendance electronically, among other things.

In fact, of this year’s $1.3 million tech total, Dodge says only about $200,000 could have been spent differently.

Despite the costs, Dodge says the district is getting a bargain.

“They got like 50 percent off for servers. That’s unheard of,” he said.

“Some people have asked me, ‘Can’t we just quit?’ h e said. “ We have a million dollars worth of Sun equipment. You can’t just walk away from it. That would be like walking away from that car.”

Oakland Tribune / Argus

RUNAWAYS: Beneath the sterile surface of the suburbs exists a network of homeless teens

Janice Jenket of Union City is the mother of a runaway. She and her husband hired private investigators to find their son, whom they say is a drug user. Photo: Anda Chu
Janice Jenket of Union City is the mother of a runaway. She and her husband hired private investigators to find their son, whom they say is a drug user. Photo: Anda Chu

See the sidebar to this story.

Parents Look For Their Lost Child

Looking back, Janice Jenket says it’s difficult to pinpoint when concern for her son turned into alarm. She thinks it’s when she realized he was using heavy drugs.

It hadn’t occurred to Janice and Bruce Jenket that their son might be snorting methamphetamines – until he started talking about the worms.

“One day, his eyes were just wild,” the Union City mother recalls. “He thought worms were coming out of the piercing in his chin.”

It was soon after that 16-year-old Mark Jenket disappeared. One year later, his parents are still looking for him.


Once a clean-cut Boy Scout, Mark Jenket changed during the year before he ran away, his mother says. He stopped doing well in math, pierced his ears and face six times and frequently changed the color of his hair. His habitual truancy and newly developed tendency to become easily agitated heightened her concern.

The kicker, though, was the crystal methamphetamine recipe she found in his backpack, she said.

Last spring, Mark was sent to drug rehabilitation at Kaiser Medical Center. Doctors determined he had a drug problem and sent him home. Soon after, on April 28, 2000, the James Logan High School senior told his mother he was going to stay after school to take a practice proficiency exam.

The family has not seen him since. His high school classmates have graduated. His 17th birthday has come and gone. “He hasn’t even called,” his mother says.

Like dozens of families in Fremont, Union City and Newark, the Jenkets have lost their son to the streets – and there is little they can do about it.

In California, being a runaway isn’t illegal, like it was 25 years ago. As a result, police departments can’t do much about the hundreds of runaway reports they receive annually.

Last year, most of Fremont’s 390, Union City’s 280 and Newark’s 129 runaways returned home. Some, however, band together in the area, sleeping in shacks, friends’ apartments, motels and, sometimes, on the street.

Often, runaways congregate in certain areas around town. Until recently, the place to meet was the Starbucks at the Fremont Hub. But in December 2000, Hub merchants vowed to clean house. Now, homeless teens seldom “kick it” there as they did before.

But they haven’t returned home. Instead, they’ve headed to other coffee shops, other motels, other shacks.

They party, often indulging in the street kid drug of choice – crystal meth, or crank. To get cash, they work odd jobs and “spange,” slang for soliciting “spare change.” Some say they generate as much as $150 a day.

One cash-generation endeavor they avoid, however, is ratting out a member of the “family.” It’s probably why the $5,000 reward the Jenkets were offering to anyone who could lead them to Mark spawned so few leads.

Now, the Jenkets are fighting time. When Mark turns 18 in June, he will be exempt from any mandatory rehabilitation programs. If his parents find him before his birthday, they can send him to a full session of rehabilitation from which he can’t leave until the program’s completion.

One fact keeps their hope alive: Mark supposedly is still in town, running with a network of local transients. Or so say two private investigators from New Mexico hired by Mark’s parents to find and return their son.

The Private Investigators

Private investigators Twila Stephenson (left) and Bob Christian have been searching for a Union City teenager since fall.
Private investigators Twila Stephenson (left) and Bob Christian have been searching for a Union City teenager since fall.

Investigators Bob Christian and Twila Stephenson pull their vehicle into the parking lot at Bay Billiards in Fremont, where Mark is said to have been seen. Christian shuts off the vehicle and pulls out the binoculars. The investigators can no longer go inside because management says they’ve stirred up too much trouble.

A woman walks by the car and laughs.

“Looking for your son?” she asks.

“We get that all the time,” Christian mutters, still holding the binoculars to his face.

This particular Wednesday night is like many nights for Stephenson and Christian. Tonight, they’re hitting some of the public hot spots for runaways in Fremont: Starbucks, the BART station, Motel 6, the Bay Street Coffee Company.

Some nights, they stake out houses, follow cars and slip kids money for clues. Once, a car they were following turned around and gave chase.

To an extent, these things pay off – or seem to. The investigators have found and interviewed Mark’s best friend – a fellow runaway and alleged drug dealer. They have talked to dozens of teens who say they know him or have seen him in town. But when it comes to finding Mark, the closest they have come is cornering a young man they mistook for him.

Christian and Stephenson are in the business of finding runaways and getting them treatment. Boyfriend and girlfriend, they have captured dozens of kids in the eight years they’ve been in business. Their business, Guiding Light Adolescent Services, specializes in “female transport,” according to the business card.

Females are easier to coax, subdue, handcuff and take on planes, they say. But the couple made an exception for Mark Jenket.

“I’m starting to feel like this kid’s mine,” Stephenson says from the back seat, looking through her binoculars.

The investigators – who have been in town searching for Mark since early October – get paid by the day and stay at a local motel.

Their presence unnerves local police officials.

“I have concerns about them,” says Fremont Police spokeswoman Julie Terry from the missing person’s department. “I wasn’t sure if it was OK for them to snatch him off the street, so I contacted the district attorney’s office, which discouraged them from doing so.”

Connie Van Putten, who was a Union City police captain when the investigators first took the case, puts it more strongly.

“The law doesn’t allow them to hold a kid against his will,” says Van Putten, who retired recently. “If they decide to forcibly take him somewhere, that’s a problem. Their licenses could be revoked.”

The investigators understand the complexities. Still, they plan to do what they were hired to do.

“When we see this boy, we’re going to grab him,” Stephenson says.

In New Mexico, and in other states where the investigators have worked, snatching, cuffing and transporting teens is relatively easy, they say.

But their job is much more difficult in California, a state that grants minors more personal freedom that the investigators are accustomed to.

Unlike in New Mexico, it is not illegal for a juvenile to be a runaway in California. And unlike Oregon, Utah or Washington, California harbors no lock-down rehab facilities.

As outsiders, Christian and Stephenson were unaware of California’s strict laws when the Jenkets solicited their services in September 2000.

They have since learned the rules.

To abide by them, they found a loophole: Mark’s parents contend he not only ran away but also stole parts of his father’s pistol. Jenket says she filed a complaint, which gives police reason to search for him more aggressively than most runaways.

Police concede it’s true that such a complaint allows them to intensify their efforts. Nevertheless, they still are wary.

Terry says she has warned the investigators that using handcuffs is a “no-no.”

In response, the investigators say they’ve modified their approach. Now they plan to corner – not handcuff – Mark.

“Then we’ll call the police, and wait,” Christian says.

While the notion of a “teen stake out” might be disconcerting for some, the Jenkets depend on such close attention.

In contrast, the police department offers limited help, Jenket says.

Police often give up on trying to take runaways to area shelters because nothing prevents teens from running away again, and teens know it, say officials at a county-run shelter in Castro Valley called the Malabar House.

The Police Quandary

Police take Tri-City runaways to the Malabar House. The phone number and exact location are kept confidential to provide runaways solace from their families.

The Malabar House, which offers kids food and lodging for up to 48 hours, is among the last county residential services for teen runaways in the state, says Patty Burgess, house manager for 19 years. Geared entirely for kids, the house prohibits the presence of parents.

Once, it was common for the house to accommodate 20 runaways from Fremont, Union City and Newark every month. But for the past two years, the average has dropped to 10. The numbers are less indicative of a decline in the problem, Burgess says, than they are of a legal gray area that renders parents of runaways almost helpless.

Running away is not illegal, so even when police find runaways they often run away again.

“We have kids the come 10, 15, 20 times a year,” says Aaron Yohannes, a counselor at the house.

Burgess speculates that the combination of factors – the running away is not illegal and that runaways who return home or to a place such as Malabar often just run away again – discourages police from searching for them.

For the last 25 years, no laws have prevented teens from fleeing the shelter.

The Laws

Van Putten remembers when it was illegal to be a runaway.

When she was a young Union City police officer, Van Putten said she chased runaways “through canyons and across fields.”

“Especially in the the ‘60s, when so many were running away to Haight/Ashbury to some commune,” she says. But in 1976, there was a national “personal freedom” movement that eventually affected juvenile delinquent laws in various states – including California.

Many felt that runaways shouldn’t be locked up with drug dealers, murderers and rapists, Burgess says.

“They were learning more about being a criminal in jail,” she says. “(There needed to be) a program that prevented kids from going into the juvenile system.”

Now, there are two categories of runaway juveniles: status offenders, who have simply run away, and delinquents, who have committed a crime and can therefore be incarcerated, Deputy District Attorney John Poppas says.

Parents accountable

While status offenders no longer can be locked up, parents can be held accountable for their children’s actions, Poppas says.

“If a kid commits graffiti, the parents could have to pay for the damage – even if they’re over 18,” he says.

Similarly, the parents of truant students are punished by the state, Terry says.

“The child isn’t punished, but the child could be fined, she says. “It’s ridiculous, especially when you’re talking about a 16- or 17-year-old.”

The fact that parents are responsible for the actions of their runaway kids creates a legal gray zone that leaves parents somewhat helpless, Terry says. For some parents, it actually is a relief when their runaway kids are arrested for committing a crime.

Karen, a Fremont woman who asked that her last name be withheld, has a teen-age daughter who lived on the streets for a year before returning home in January. On New Year’s Eve, Karen was on Tennyson Road in Hayward, posting fliers asking her daughter to return home, when she ran into her.

Her daughter returned home, but stole $350 and left again, Karen says. The Hayward police found and arrested her daughter in connection with the theft. They sent her to Juvenile Hall, where she was released last week.

“This is like a gift from God,” she says. “I felt for the first time finally somebody can do something about this.”

Janice Jenket empathizes. In addition to hiring investigators and pounding the pavement herself to find her son, she also wants to reach out to other parents dealing with similar situations.

“I think God chose us. Parents are ashamed. But parents need to know this can happen to anyone.”

Oakland Tribune / Argus

Power of love: A Will with No Limit Finds its Reward

East Bay Press Club, Light feature, 3rd place, 2002

For love of his life, Fremont man risked everything: He met her during Vietnam War — and couldn’t let go

FREMONT — You can’t talk sense into a young man in love.

But John Kangas was more than just smitten by the woman from the Philippines he met during the Vietnam War. He was hypnotized.

So obsessed was Kangas with finding and marrying Cristita Sampaga that –after serving his time in the war — he re-enlisted. It didn’t matter that the young Marine didn’t know where she lived. And it didn’t matter that she was completely unaware of his intentions.

More than three decades later, Kangas, now 59, recalls how he hurdled obstacle after obstacle in an attempt to find, court and marry the woman who, as they celebrate Valentine’s Day today, has been his wife for 32 years. He sneaked on planes, criss-crossed the Pacific, disobeyed orders and even cheated death.

But it was worth it, he says. Today, the couple lives in a home on Mildred Drive. They have four children, two of whom still live at home, and are raising five grandchildren. This is the story of how they were married, as they remember it.

It started as an epiphany in 1963. Kangas, having returned from duty in Vietnam, was in his barracks in Jacksonville, Fla. In the middle of a bitter divorce, he had just hung up the phone after talking to his lawyer. “I knew I wanted to get married again,” he recalls. “So I thought: ‘What qualities am I looking for?'”

Lying in his bunk, Kangas waxed thoughtful and conjured an answer: Honesty. But his ideas didn’t stop there.

“Then I get this flashback,” he recalls. “I’m in the Philippines, in this restaurant. I had had a date to meet her at noon there. She didn’t show up
until one. So I asked her, ‘What happened?'”

At the time, he didn’t like her answer: She had been on a date with another man. It didn’t matter that they were only friends — her answer still grated him. Now, lying on his bunk, Kangas realized why: He loved her.

Thus began a six-month odyssey to find her.

His first move was to return to Vietnam.

The Marines thought it was odd, but Kangas went back and resumed his duty as an electrician aboard a bomber.

During his first week of “rest and relaxation,” Kangas didn’t relax. He went back to the Philippines.

He booked a hotel in Sampaga’s hometown of Olongapo and called a taxi. When the driver inquired about Kangas’ destination, the young man uttered a name, not a place, and offered the driver a 20-peso bill — worth well more than the price of a typical cab drive.

“It’s yours if you find her,” Kangas said.

The driver nodded and drove slowly through the streets with his window down, talking to passers-by and shop owners, gathering clues.

Within 30 minutes, the driver found her home, a dwelling with no electricity or running water.

“There wasn’t even a door,” Kangas recalls.

The driver left Kangas in the taxi and approached the home. Sampaga appeared in the doorway. They spoke for a few minutes, then the driver returned to the taxi and brought Kangas to the doorway.

Kangas looked at her, and slipped the driver the money.

She looked at him, and invited him in.

“I had both an engagement ring and wedding ring in my pocket,” recalls Kangas, who didn’t waste much time. After engaging in small talk for a while, he proposed.

“He told me: ‘I want to get married again,'” she remembers. “I say: ‘Who’s the lucky girl?’

“He say: ‘You!'”

She said yes, but recalls that she never really expected the wedding to happen.

“I was already engaged with an American, but he never came back,” she says. “I don’t trust Americans. When I got (Kangas’) ring, I took it to the pawn shop.”

Still, they spent what both remember as a wonderful week together. When it ended, Kangas returned to the war and Sampaga thought him gone forever.

Little did she know.

Kangas’ second Vietnam tour ended in 1966. Still desperate to marry the skeptical Sampaga, he requested an extension. This time, however, he was turned down. He later learned he likely would have died with his crew had the extension been granted.

Still determined to see Sampaga, to convince her to marry him, Kangas sought a passport and visa so he could visit her in the Philippines. But more problems arose. To get the passport, he needed to travel to Hawaii. To get the visa, he needed to travel to Japan.

His only chance was during a month-long furlough before he returned to the States. He used 18 days of it running errands on the Pacific Ocean — retrieving his passport and visa — and spent the remaining 12 days with Sampaga.

This time, they made plans to be married — as soon as he could finalize his divorce.

When he left, she again assumed he would not return.

Kangas, however, was determined. By 1967, the divorce was final. Now, he needed to get to the Philippines, so they could get married. But there were no flights to the Philippines. The closest Kangas could get was Hawaii.

Once there, he met some members of a Philippine navy crew on their way to Guam. They learned of his plight and offered him a seat aboard their plane. In Guam, he got word of a plane that was leaving the next day for the Philippines, where he wasn’t allowed.

“The pilot had flown it there to wash it,” he says. “It was a VIP plane.”

In the Philippines, Kangas talked his way past an officer who tried to stop him but missed a ride he had lined up to take him to Sampaga’s home. Finally, after hopping into the side car of a motorcycle taxi, Kangas reached his destination, exhausted.

But Sampaga was not there. She had moved to a nearby city to work, her father told Kangas.

“She didn’t believe you were coming,” her father said.

Kangas gave her father a $20 bill, this time in American money, to find her.

“He left that night, about midnight. At about eight the next morning, he was back with her,” Kangas remembers.

Soon after, they were married in an open field by the town’s mayor.

“We fed 2,000 people,” Kangas says. “We danced all night.”

Once again, though, Kangas returned home alone.

In 1968, the couple had been married almost a year when the red tape was finally cut. But a big problem remained: getting word to her and getting her here. Her family had no phone, so Kangas could communicate with his wife only through letters.

Once in awhile, she would go into town to call Kangas, who was living in Southern California, about 30 miles south of Los Angeles. But just before she flew to Los Angeles, Kangas moved from the barracks into an apartment, and was unable to tell her his new phone number. In the end, Kangas drove to LAX. “I couldn’t find her,” he recalled.

So he called the barracks. “Did she call?” he asked the officer. “You could say that,” the officer answered. “She’s at the main gate.”

“Somehow,” Kangas recalls, “she figured out how to catch a bus to the barracks. She made it to the main gate of the base. Meanwhile, I’m in L.A. International.”

He drove the 30 miles to the gate, where she stood waiting. After a five-year struggle, they were together at last. Eventually, they settled in Fremont, where Kangas landed a job as an engineer and they started a family.

“I promised the mayor (who married them) we would have 12 kids,” Kangas says over the voices of two of his grandchildren. “We got almost halfway there.”

On April 2, they will celebrate their 33rd anniversary.

Roseburg News-Review / Seattle Times

Vet’s Hunch on Hitchhiker Proves Costly

(Oregon Newspaper Association, Spot news, 3rd place, 2001. Also appeared in The Seattle Times.)

Giving a Lift Brings Vet Down
Favor to hitchhiker proves costly to cancer patient
Possessions stolen: Suspect takes off with man’s truck and U-haul containing $30,000 worth of items.

He had never heard of Roseburg before, but he will remember it now, to the end of his numbered days.

Forty-nine-year-old Thomas Carver hadn’t picked up a hitchhiker in 15 years, but this one seemed different.

“I saw truth in his eyes,” he says of a young hitchhiker standing on a northbound Interstate 5 exit in Shasta, Calif.

So he stopped.

The hitchhiker, who looked to be in his mid-20s, hopped into Carver’s white 1992 Ford F250 truck, which pulled a U-haul carrying all his possessions. Carver then continued his trip from Buckeye, Ariz. to a new home in Buckley, Wash. Thursday.

By Friday afternoon, all Carver’s possessions have been stolen for more than 12 hours. The Vietnam veteran sits in a room at the Super 8 motel in Roseburg, chain-smoking and bewildered.

“What you see is what I own,” he says, holding out his hands.

Now, all Carver owns is a T-shirt, a pair of blue jeans, some credit cards and $250 cash.

“That’s what blows me away,” Carver says. “He went into my blue jeans to get the cash, but he left all that money. Maybe we’re talking about some kind of gentleman bandit.”

After taking Carver up on his offer to get a double room, the young man who called himself Robert Keller simply waited for Carver to fall asleep before stealing his keys and a $100 bill from his jeans Thursday night.

When Carver awoke at around 4 a.m., he said he knew something was wrong. The bed next to him was empty – and still made.

“I ran outside to look for my truck, and it was gone,” the former hunting guide and contractor said.

So was the trailer, which carried about $30,000 worth of uninsured possessions, including three rifles, three handguns, a shotgun and the mount of a four-horned goat’s head, Carver said.

Carver said he sleeps a lot because of his terminal lymphoma cancer.

Doctors in Phoenix recently told Carver he had one year to live. Carver said he was on his way from Arizona to Washington for better cancer treatment.

“The waiting rooms in Phoenix are overwhelmed,” he said.

Carver said he was poisoned by Agent Orange while serving as Navy flight mechanic in the Vietnam War. He got so sick, he said, that he couldn’t work as either a hunting guide or contractor.

“I lost my business; I lost everything,” he said. “Now I lost the last bit of stuff I own. I had to walk two miles up the street just to get a comb and toothbrush.”

According to a police report, the hitchhiker is white, about 5 feet 7 inches, weighs 170 to 180 pounds, has short brown hair, large brown eyes and is missing a right incisor. He has tattoos of a long, thin cross on his right forearm and peace sign on the web of his left hand.

The hitchhiker said he was headed to Olympia for a disability check but would eventually return to Modesto, Calif. Carver said the man seemed very familiar with Roseburg.

“We seemed to have so much in common,” said Carver, whose eyes were red because his cancer medication had been stolen.

Despite the tattoos, Carver said the hitchhiker’s clean-cut appearance and honest-looking face caused him to stop.

“Because I was a hunter and a guide, I thought I could trust my instincts,” he said. “Stupid, stupid, stupid, stupid.”

Early Saturday, a cab dropped him off at the Greyhound station, where he planned to catch a bus to Tacoma to meet his brother.

Roseburg News-Review / Seattle Times

PARAMEDICS: A Life in Paradox

(Note: This story appeared in the Life section of The News-Review in Roseburg, Oregon.)

Keeping their distance: A man who was hit with a shovel asks to finish his cigarette before allowing paramedics Scott Page, right, and Dave Burr, left, to examine the injury. The injured man had possible nerve damage to the elbow.
Keeping their distance: A man who was hit with a shovel asks to finish his cigarette before allowing paramedics Scott Page, right, and Dave Burr, left, to examine the injury. The injured man had possible nerve damage to the elbow.

Photos by Andy Bronson

April 9, 2000

It’s getting late – around 9 o’clock – and W.E.S.T. Ambulance paramedics Phil Feland and Greg Hickey have been watching television for hours. After finishing “Frazier,” Hickey flips through the channels and stops at the “O’Reilly Factor,” a news analysis show on Fox.

This show tends to bore 48-year-old Feland, but he’s not picky.

“I don’t really care what we watch,” he says. “I just glare at the TV and let the others channel surf.”

Meanwhile, across town, in the Mill-Pine Historic District, a woman finds her half-conscious friend trying to stand, using the kitchen wall as a crutch. One hand grips his chest, the other an empty pint of gin.

“Mike,” she says. “Are you okay?”

Mike, who has overdosed on heroin, nods clumsily and slumps to the ground. Wasting no time, the woman phones 911.

“911 medical alert,” the volume of the dispatcher’s voice overpowers that of the W.E.S.T. headquarter’s TV, on which O’Reilly is reading his own hate mail. Hickey turns down the TV volume. Somehow, the dispatch message gets muddled, and the paramedics at W.E.S.T. receive an inaccurate description of the situation – a common occurrence caused by panicky callers, who can be difficult to understand.

“Seventy-year-old male on Houck Avenue. Having chest pains, difficulty breathing, is blue in the face. Possible stroke victim.”

Without a word, Hickey and Feland put on their shoes, check the city map on the wall and climb into the ambulance, leaving the TV on.

Hickey, who’s 43, takes the wheel; Feland, who sports a tattoo on his forearm, gets into the passenger seat and slips his hands into blue rubber gloves. They leave the garage, fire up the sirens and speed down Garden Valley Boulevard, casually conversing all the while.

Unfazed by the train that holds them up for several minutes on Mosher Avenue, their casual conversation continues.

Despite the holdup, the crew arrives at its destination in fewer than 10 minutes. Two members of the fire department have already arrived.

Attack victim: Paramedic Scott Page, left, holds a bandage in place as his partner Dave Burr wraps the victim's arm in gauze. The man was cut by an attacker wielding a shovel.
Attack victim: Paramedic Scott Page, left, holds a bandage in place as his partner Dave Burr wraps the victim’s arm in gauze. The man was cut by an attacker wielding a shovel.

The middle-aged man, who has long hair and a thick mustache, sits in his living room chair surrounded by fire and ambulance personnel. His name is Mike. Strewn about Mike’s small house are empty packs of menthol cigarettes, beer cans and whisky bottles.

Hickey gives Mike an oxygen mask and Feland starts to gather more information.

“Hey Mike,” Feland says, while Hickey tightens the blood pressure cuff around Mike’s upper arm by squeezing the pump. “Do you know what day it is?”

Mike takes a few breaths, fogging up the mask, and answers.

“Fourteenth of March,” he says, barely audible.

Observing Mike’s tiny pupils, Feland asks Mike if he took any drugs. Mike nods, admitting he mixed heroin, gin and prescribed medication for hypertension and heart failure.

The paramedics embark on a number of technical procedures, but rely just as much on common sense and intuition when determining whether to give Mike the choice to be transported to the hospital.

Casually assuring Mike the police will not be involved, Hickey attaches Mike to a heart rate monitor by sticking suction-ended tubes to his chest.

Meanwhile, a fire department paramedic asks Mike’s friend – the one who called 911 – to smoke outside.

Seeing that Mike’s breathing, blood pressure, heart rate and comprehension are normal, Hickey lets Mike decide whether he goes to the hospital.

Mike shrugs his shoulders and looks at his concerned friend, now chain smoking outside, who makes sure the front door stays open so she can see what’s going on.

“Mike,” she says, “you can’t leave this decision to me.”

Mike decides not to go, fearing retribution from the police, adding, for some reason, that it has been three or four years since he last did heroin.

“How come you stopped?” asks Hickey.

“It was ruining my life,” Mike replies.

With this, Hickey, Feland and the two fire department employees gather their equipment and leave the house.

“Don’t do it again,” one advises.

“Don’t worry,” says Mike, hugging his friend in the doorway. “This was a wake-up call.”

Once in the vehicle, Hickey and Feland talk briefly about the incident.

“It’s been a while since I’ve done one of them,” says Hickey, referring to a heroin call. In his four years as a paramedic, he has responded to only one other such call.

“I just hope we don’t have to come back tonight,” says Feland, who is all too familiar with heroin calls, having worked as a paramedic in San Francisco before coming to Roseburg.

* * *

To be an ambulance paramedic is to be riddled in paradox.

In Roseburg, paramedics work 72 hours a week, yet enjoy four-day weekends. They feel the stress of being responsible for people’s lives, yet experience long periods of boredom.

Paramedics, minute-for-minute, might have the most monotonous job out there, but all paramedics have horror stories unrivaled by almost anyone in the workforce.

Training Officer Scott Page remembers a Roseburg logger who was crushed by a falling tree.

“It popped all his blood vessels,” he said. “From the chest up he was kind of purple-black.”

Paramedic Dan Coleman tells of a head-on car crash on Melrose Road that resulted in a fire with 100-foot flames. Paramedics tried to save a woman by pulling her out of the burning vehicle, but the air pressure sucked her back into the car.

Kevin Johnson, now the vice president of the Oregon State Ambulance Association and living in Bend, remembers plucking two bullets from the neck of a 20-year-old man in Sutherlin about 20 years ago, when the town didn’t have enough money for a police force. The man lived.

Most people’s lives are less bloody than the movies.

Paramedics, however, often find themselves turning off a gory movie and walking into a gory situation.

While many have grown accustomed to seeing death on TV, paramedics like Jerrid Edwards, a 24-year-old paramedic of two years, have built a tolerance to the real thing.

Edwards says he couldn’t begin to count the car accident fatalities he’s seen.

“That’s like trying to figure out the number of Volkswagens you see driving around,” the Roseburg native says as he waits with the ambulance in the parking lot of a video store for his partner, who’s getting movies.

It’s not that the gore bothers Edwards, however.

“It’s the smells of body fluids,” he said. “But you get used to it.”

To be sure, W.E.S.T. Ambulance manager Scott Page is quick to note the job isn’t anything like the TV shows “E.R.” and “Emergency,” the latter of which inspired him to become a paramedic.

“A lot of times, it’s pretty boring,” he admits. “We do a lot of sitting around.”

W.E.S.T. Ambulance, a private, for-profit company owned by Glide resident Richard Wilt, gets about a dozen 911 calls a day. With three ambulance crews on at any given time, one in Myrtle Creek and two in Roseburg, it can lead to quite a bit of thumb twiddling.

But 12 calls a day is only an average for the company, which, until the mid-‘80s, was part of Mercy Medical Center. Edwards said there are nights when he only gets an hour of sleep.

On an ideal day, he said, it is busy all day and quiet all night. That way, the time passes quickly, but he still gets to sleep – like a normal job.

Page said when he first started, it was even difficult to sleep on those nights.

“It used to be real scary knowing someone’s life can depend on you,” said the 40-year-old former newspaper photographer. “But you get used to it.”

Of course, Scott says, not all calls are matters of life and death.

Unnecessary calls, he said, can be frustrating.

At this, a call comes in for an elbow injury.

* * *

Page and paramedic Dave Burr roll their eyes while hopping into the ambulance, anticipating an unnecessary call.

But as they cut through rush hour traffic on Garden Valley Boulevard, the dispatcher leaks information – bit by bit – that tells them otherwise.

“Subject is a 30-year-old male,” says the dispatcher. “He says he was assaulted.”

The vehicle, using the Interstate 5 thoroughfare to get from Garden Valley to Harvard Avenue, hits 80 mph.
“Subject says he was assaulted with a shovel,” the dispatcher says.

In moments like this, paramedics have to be careful, Page says. So the crew has to make sure the police have gotten a handle on the situation first.

A call comes in assuring the crew that the police have arrived and that it can proceed. Page pulls over at Altamont and Brown, where the man, named Jeff, has come to meet him.

Jeff, who’s missing many teeth, has a towel wrapped around his elbow. The towel, his jeans and his white “Party Animal” T-shirt are bloody.

A man who lives in a shed in the neighborhood attacked him with a shovel, Jeff says.

“I can’t feel these two fingers,” he says, pointing to his left pinky and ring finger.

Page approaches Jeff, cautious not to turn his back on him. With gloved hands, Page slowly unwraps the towel.

“It was a verbal disagreement,” explains Jeff, who admits he’s been drinking alcohol.

“Looks like it was a little more than verbal,” Page replies, applying gauze to the wound – a damaged ulna nerve, otherwise known as the funny bone.

Jeff asks to be transported to Mercy. Page and Burr comply, placing the wincing man onto the gurney.

Jeff is talkative in the ambulance.

“The guy aimed for my head,” he contends. “It was definitely attempted murder. The spade broke right off.”

The crew hands Jeff over to the Mercy staff, who will take X-rays, stitch him up and release him.

From here, things are routine for the ambulance crew.

Burr cleans the blood off the gurney while Page does the paperwork.

“This is the worst part of the job,” Page says.

When the crew returns to the station, the others are watching “The Jeffersons.”

A fellow paramedic asks Page how it went. Page shrugs his shoulders and sits down.

A while later, the dispatcher’s voice cuts through one of George Jefferson’s tirades.

“911 medical alert.”

The paramedic turns down the volume.

“Vehicle-pedestrian collision on the 5000 block of Stephens Street near Winchester. The man is laying on his back.”

The paramedic turns the TV volume back up.

“Sounds serious,” he says. “But that’s Fire District Number Two’s district.”