Linntons lament: Everyone is in pain
Still stinging from fatal accident, families yearn for return to normalcy
The Linnton neighborhood is a gone-in-30-seconds blur of dimly lit storefronts for most people driving on a four-lane stretch of U.S. Highway 30, which runs from Portland to Astoria.
Its attempts to become anything more have been stunted by the thoroughfare, which over the past four decades has decimated this small community, claiming its identity, its businesses and, most recently, one of its young residents.
Many Portlanders had never heard of Linnton until 14-year-old Ryan Calvert was killed Nov. 29 as he left his school bus and started to cross the highway at a traffic light during rush hour.
The youth died almost immediately after he was struck by a van driven by Larry Antijunti of Scappoose. Police did not charge Antijunti, 55, after determining that he was not at fault.
The accident served as a tragic introduction to the rest of Portland for an enclave of 400 households struggling to gain visibility. Many neighbors were outraged that a new highway project intended to slow traffic had been approved but delayed.
They have worked with transportation officials on a new study that recommends lowering the speed limit from 45 mph to 35 mph. They have dealt with their grief by taking steps to make the community safer, while comforting two shattered families Ñ those of the victim and the driver.
'When you drive through, you think this is a nothing neighborhood, but if you're planted here, it's different,' says Cathi Black, owner of Linnton Feed & Seed store, a neighborhood hub. Of the accident, she says: 'It's all everyone is talking about as the days go by. Everyone is in pain.'
Linnton, just northwest of the St. Johns Bridge, has undergone dramatic changes in the past century.
After its annexation to the city of Portland in 1915, it experienced its heyday as a lumber community and became home to many blue-collar workers. But it was hit hard by the Depression, the loss of two mills in the 1940s and a decline in railroad freight business in the 1950s.
The widening of the highway from two to four lanes in the 1960s wiped out half of the neighborhood's business district. The Linnton Plywood Association recently closed. Now, businesses mostly serve a residential community of professionals and artists or people passing through.
'Waiting for that good day'
John and Nanci Calvert moved to Linnton more than a decade ago so they could raise their three children on a 12-acre farm on the hillside.
Their big red house at the top of the hill seemed ideal. They lived next door to Nanci's mother and one house down from her sister. Their children Ñ Samantha, Ryan and Cory Ñ had a relatively sheltered place to play and take turns caring for the family's horses, goats, rabbits and cats.
Ryan, an eighth-grader at West Sylvan Middle School, was the fearless one. Not easily intimidated, he competed in cross country and track races against boys twice his size. Whatever he wanted, he pursued doggedly.
On a family outing at Fort Stevens State Park, he was coasting down the sand dunes on an inner tube when the wind blew the tube away. He took off after it. Then his father took off after him.
'One hour later he came back with the inner tube,' Nanci remembers. 'We figured he'd stop, but he didn't.'
Since the accident two months ago, the Calvert home has been filled with visiting relatives and neighbors bearing prepared meals and sympathy cards. Yet John and Nanci, who took off about a month and a half from work to be at home, say the house has felt unusually empty.
Nanci is constantly reminded of her son: At the grocery store, she sees his favorite foods; at the track where Samantha and Ryan practiced on the field; or out near the barn where father and son used to shoot hoops.
They desperately want their lives to be normal again. People either overreact to their presence or tiptoe around them as if they were broken. But when they try to do something normal, it doesn't work. Doing anything without Ryan, even going out for a family dinner, hurts.
'You're waiting for that good day to come; you're waiting for that good night to come,' John says. 'I guess it won't come for a while.'
The highway had been a problem ever since Nanci, who was raised in Linnton, can remember. She walked her children to the stop until they were old enough to want to go alone. Ryan had reached that age last year.
According to a new study contracted by the Oregon Department of Transportation, the speed limit on the stretch of Highway 30 that cuts through Linnton is set too high. The report recommends lowering the limit by 5 mph to 40, and even 35 mph if other improvements, such as a new median, are put in.
That's of little consequence to the Calverts now. They say their son knew to look both ways and to wait for the signal to change before crossing. But parents can't be around to protect their children all the time.
'I've always tried to be there for my kids. I was told that I needed to let them grow up a little bit,' Nanci says. 'The one time I wasn't there for him, this happens.'
'Do you still love me?'
While the Calverts struggle to accept the loss of a loved one, the Antijuntis are dealing with the guilt of taking that loved one away Ñ even if they know it was an accident.
Larry and Megan Antijunti consider themselves part of the Linnton community, too, although they live in Scappoose. Megan, who runs Lar-a-me Stables, often goes to Linnton Feed & Seed for supplies.
On the day of the accident, Larry was headed home after completing another drywall-finishing contract job for his employer in Boring. He didn't want to be interviewed for this story, but his wife says he hasn't been the same since the accident.
The following night, Megan remembers her husband approached her. 'Do you still love me?' he asked.
'You could have done everything wrong, and I'd still love you,' she replied.
The couple has a history of going out of their way to help others, taking in abandoned pets and helping people down on their luck. They even have a sign posted on the back door of their house that reads: 'If you break something, fess up. Accidents happen.'
It's easier for them to forgive people other than themselves.
For weeks after the accident, they couldn't bring themselves to do much of anything. Megan would try walking up to the barn, only to feel nauseated and run back to the house.
Larry hardly left the house, staying inside to watch television, read a book or sit alone in the living room. If he did go out, he couldn't drive farther than Sauvie Island before feeling too exhausted to continue. He avoided answering the telephone and talking about what had happened with anyone, even his wife.
Megan says Larry doesn't like to ask for help, choosing instead to overcome difficult situations on his own. Decades ago, when he was a young man, he was overweight and once blacked out from a night of drinking. He realized he had a problem, so he dropped the extra pounds and quit drinking, cold turkey.
'He didn't need AA or rehab or Weight Watchers,' Megan says. 'But this is completely different. He needs help and support, but I don't know if he'll get it.'
A month passed. Larry, who is a champion cribbage player, debated whether to go away for a weekend cribbage tournament, as he had planned. He was nervous about how people, even his friends, would treat him.
'He came home (from the tournament) and said he never got so many handshakes in his life,' Megan says.
Still, the couple ignored Christmas, and now, well into the new year, they're struggling to move on with their lives.
Larry recently got a notice to pick up the van, which had been in police custody. He drove it home, parked it, handed the keys over to his wife and said he'd never drive it again. They're trying to donate it to a charity.
He refuses to get behind the wheel of large vehicles.
'We're still able to enjoy the simple things in life, and Ryan is not,' Megan says. 'How could we not take it out on ourselves?'