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April 11, 2021

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Alleged hit-and-run driver faces 31-count indictment, accused of killing 1, injuring 7 others in Portland

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PORTLAND — A Multnomah County grand jury has returned a 31-count indictment against the driver who allegedly struck and killed one woman and injured seven other people in a wild, 15-block vehicle rampage in Southeast Portland last week.

The indictment, issued Wednesday, charges Paul Rivas with second-degree murder and failure to perform the duties of a driver in the killing of Jean Gerich, 77, a pedestrian who was hit twice and then dragged for a block.

She died about three hours later from blunt force trauma at OHSU Hospital, according to her son and daughter.

The second-degree murder charge alleges Rivas “unlawfully and intentionally” caused Gerich’s death.

For each of the seven other victims who were struck and injured, the indictment charges Rivas with second-degree assault, attempted first-degree assault, attempted second-degree murder and failure to perform the duties of a driver to an injured person.

The final count of the seven-page indictment charges Rivas with resisting arrest when Officers Zachary Kenney and Matt Jacobsen attempted to take him into custody after a crowd of bystanders cornered him.

Rivas is scheduled to be arraigned on the indictment at 9:30 a.m. Thursday in Multnomah County Circuit Court’s Justice Center 3 courtroom.

Rivas, through a court-appointed lawyer, last week entered not guilty pleas to an initial 14-count criminal information. His attorney Jonathan Sarre couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

Gerich, a 48-year Portland resident, had just left an appointment with her massage therapist and had barely made it to the sidewalk across the street when she was first struck by Gerich’s SUV, according to witnesses, police, friends and family.

Larry Wolfe, her massage therapist, had heard a loud crash and emerged from his home and reported seeing Gerich sitting down near Southeast 19th Avenue and Stark Street, visibly injured and Rivas’ Honda Element initially driving away, according to a probable cause affidavit.

But the SUV made a rapid U-turn and came back, jumped the sidewalk and ran over Gerich a second time and dragged her underneath the car, he told police, the affidavit said. Wolfe told officers he believed Gerich was struck intentionally, according to the affidavit.

Numerous witnesses recounted to police that Rivas appeared to be deliberately attempting to strike vehicles, bicyclists and pedestrians by swerving toward them while in the road or on sidewalks. He sped away after hitting people, without making any attempt to stop or render aid, according to police and prosecutors.

Detectives said the crime scene stretched from Southeast Cesar E. Chavez Boulevard to Southeast 15th Avenue, and from East Burnside Street to Belmont Street. Rivas was arrested at Southeast 17th and Stark and taken to a hospital for a medical evaluation before he was booked into jail at 11 p.m. that night.

The other victims listed in the indictment are Juan Caicedo-Gomez, Raymond Chihak, Travis Andrews, Prudence Hayes, Faviola Palomera, Donald Hinson and Miguel Rochin.

Andrews, who was walking in the area, told police he saw the Honda Element driving on the sidewalk near Southeast Stark Street and 18th Avenue, appearing to head directly toward him. Andrews said he made eye contact with the driver, then stepped off the sidewalk to avoid getting hit, but the Honda turned toward him and drove at him in the road, striking him in the right foot and lower leg, the affidavit said. Andrews watched as the Honda turned around and headed eastbound on Stark and crashed.

Rivas hit a black Chevrolet El Camino and ran off, witnesses told police. Andrews and other bystanders chased after Rivas and cornered him before police arrived and arrested him. Rivas was seen on video footage making the sign of a cross with his hands over his chest before he was taken into custody.

Hayes said she was in her car when she saw Rivas’ Honda strike a bicyclist, sending the cyclist hurtling over the hood of the car, before the Honda collided with her own vehicle. She said she required staples to close head wounds she suffered from the collision, according to the affidavit.

Hinson was riding his bicycle on Southeast 18th Avenue when the Honda “drove straight at him without slowing,” sending him and his bicycle onto the hood of the Honda. He fell onto the street and suffered injuries to his leg and a cut to his nose, the affidavit said.

Other described similar wild behavior by the Honda that seemed to target them.

Chihak said he was on the sidewalk near Southeast 19th Avenue and Stark when he heard screaming. That’s when he noticed the Honda speeding directly toward him. It struck him as he stood on the sidewalk, he said, then sped off, according to the affidavit. Chihak also was treated for his injuries at a hospital.

Caicedo-Gomez was riding in the bike lane on Southeast Belmont Street when the Honda swerved into the lane and hit him from behind, throwing him off his bicycle, according to police.

Palomera said she was walking in Laurelhurst Park and saw the Honda doing U-turns nearby. “The next thing she knew she woke up in the hospital,” with a head injury after she had been knocked unconscious when the Honda was seen driving out of the park and struck her while walking, according to her statement to police and a witness’ account, the affidavit said.

Rivas gave detectives bizarre explanations for what occurred when questioned the next day, according to court documents.

He initially claimed his Honda Element was having brake problems and that he was searching for an auto repair shop. Other times, he suggested the injuries could have been inflicted by “another, similar looking” Honda car, not his. He admitted at one point to striking a bicyclist but characterized the collision as an “emergency maneuver” he made to avoid a more serious crash with oncoming traffic, Multnomah County prosecutor Sean P. Hughey wrote in the affidavit.

Detectives are continuing to investigate and suspect Rivas is suffering from some type of mental illness or ailment. There was no sign of drugs immediately detectable in his system, police said.

Rivas told court officials he’s been living in a fifth-wheel trailer in Oregon City for 13 years. He has prior addresses in Washington. Rivas also said he’s divorced but has “multiple girlfriends,” according to court records. He told court officials he last drank alcohol six months ago and hasn’t used hard drugs in four decades, according to the records. The court listed aliases of “Rocket” and “Pablo” for him.

He told court officials he receives Supplemental Security Income for a disability and has been diagnosed with anxiety and depression in the past. He claimed he was diagnosed with those mental health problems while in the Secret Service, but there’s no record he was ever in the U.S. Secret Service.

Rivas is originally from Kansas, married a woman 14 years younger than he at age 32 in Michigan, where he worked at one time as a design engineer for General Motors, according to a relative. They were married for 10 years and had a daughter before they got divorced. Rivas followed his ex-wife to Washington state, where she obtained a stalking order against him.

Rivas had his license suspended for a brief time after a 2013 conviction for failure to obey traffic signals and failure to provide proof of compliance. Court records show it was reinstated on Dec. 8, 2014.

He has three failure to obey traffic device convictions from 2007, 2011 and 2013, according to Oregon court records.

Rivas also has a March 2019 conviction in Clark County for second-degree voyeurism and ordered then to undergo a psychosexual evaluation. He was arrested at a post office in Vancouver on Aug. 14, 2018, after he was seen trying to use his phone to film under the skirt of a woman standing in line in front of him, according to court records.

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