Kid-thrown rocks bust drivers’ windshields and scatter glass

Read what it was like to see rocks smashing one’s windshield, when teenagers chucked them from a railroad overpass in the Wilkes neighborhood …

Standing next to his battered rig, Portland Fire & Rescue Safety Chief Jeff Bancroft tells what it was like to be the target of teenage rock-tossers, while he was driving in the Wilkes neighborhood.

Story and photos by David F. Ashton

As on most weekday mornings, Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Safety Chief Jeff Bancroft was up before dawn, and heading for a gym workout on the morning of March 11.

The sameness of his daily routine was abruptly disrupted at 5:20 a.m. as he drove south on NE 148th Avenue, up the hill toward the railroad and I-84 overpasses.

In the darkness of the early morning hours, the headlights of Chief Bancroft’s rig lights up rocks, some as large as eight inches across, in the roadway near this railroad bridge.

“Even though it was dark, I saw large rocks in the roadway, and slowed down to navigate around them,” Bancroft told East Portland News. “I thought I’d stop and kick some of the big rocks out of the road.

“That’s when rock started raining down on top of the truck,” Bancroft said. “And these weren’t pebbles. Some of them were the size of cannonballs.”

Some of the rocks chucked down on vehicles that morning still remained at the road’s curb when East Portland News arrived at the location.

Some of those rocks blasted shards of glass out of his windshield and into his cab; others hit and rocked the truck.

His first thought, Bancroft recalled, was that an earthquake was causing the steel-and-concrete railroad overcrossing to disintegrate, so he immediately turned on all the truck’s emergency flashers, strobes and work lights, to warn other vehicles to stay away.

“But, in the few minutes it took me to unclench my jaw, I realized there was no ground movement. I got out looking, at the damage to my rig, and it occurred to me that someone had thrown rocks from the overpass,” said Bancroft.

The dented hood, shattered windshield, and broken grill of his truck were caused by large and heavy rocks, purposely thrown down onto his truck, Bancroft says.

That’s when the Fire Chief got on his radio. “I called the Portland Police Bureau and told them what had happened, created a ‘traffic incident’ for Portland Fire, and added myself to the incident.”

Shortly there after, another driver sprinted to his truck, and said that his car had received the same damage, just moments before. “A big rock cracked his windshield, on the driver’s side, but fortunately didn’t break through. It started raining, and I invited him to sit in my truck – and it was then I realized my passenger’s seat was covered with glass shards.”

Portland Police Bureau Public Information Officer Sgt. Pete Simpson said it took only minutes for several of their units to begin searching along the railroad tracks and I-84, eventually locating two teen males hiding along the train tracks, west of NE 148th Avenue.

The most frightening injury he sustained in the incident, Chief Bancroft says, is a shard of glass that lodged in his eye.

Later that morning, at the PF&R Logistic Center, located in the Brooklyn neighborhood just north of Powell Boulevard, Bancroft had the opportunity to change out of gym clothes and into his uniform. “I’ve found many small puncture wounds from the glass, but most disturbing that I had a piece of glass in my eye. And, I have glass shards down my back, and up my legs.”

Still, he was thankful, Bancroft reflected, that the rocks that did the most damage didn’t hit the driver’s side of his windshield.

If the rocks had hit a couple of feet to the left, one of them could have penetrated the windshield, and hit the Fire Chief in the face.

“We’ve seen incidents like this, where rocks or objects hit the drivers-side windshield, and actually punched a hole all the way through,” Bancroft recalled. “I’m aware of circumstances in the past where people have died, after rocks thrown off overpasses broke through windshields.”

About the teens who threw the rocks, Bancroft said, “I would hope they didn’t have the realization of the trouble they can cause. If they did realize that their actions could result in a fatality, they might as well just be shooting at passing cars.

“Just about everyone I’ve spoken today said that they’d done stupid things as kids,” Bancroft went on, “but none of them had lobbed rocks at cars.”

Having come “this close” to being fatally injured, Chief Bancroft says he hopes people realize the damage a rock-chucking prank can cause.

Looking at his battered fire-engine-red SUV, Bancroft struggled, trying to articulate a “safety message” from the incident. “Don’t do something stupid like throwing things at cars. Whether it’s a rock or even or an empty soda can, anything you throw at a vehicle can cause an accident. It isn’t a prank; it could be a lethal mistake. Kids need to realize this.”

“17-year-old Rodolfo Gonzalez and 16-year-old Isaac James Dinu were taken into custody without incident, and face charges of Criminal Mischief and Reckless Endangerment,” later reported the Portland Police Bureau’s Sgt. Simpson. “If there are any other vehicles that sustained damage as a result of this incident, please file a report by calling the Police Non-Emergency Line at (503) 823-3333.”

© 2015 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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