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UTILITIES

Water, sewer rates go up

The Portland City Council has voted to increase water rates 8.8 percent and sewer rates 7.9 percent to help pay for two major construction projects, the $1 billion Willamette River cleanup project and the first phases of a $35 million plan to cover the city's open reservoirs.

Tuesday's vote increases combined water and sewer bills by 8.1 percent to an average of $54.49 a month, up from $50.39. Nationwide, only Seattle charges customers more for water and sewer services, according to a recent study by the Black & Veatch consulting firm of Kansas City, Mo.

Despite the size of the increases, no one testified against them at the council meeting.

BUS ACCIDENT

Driver charged

The driver whose car collided with a Portland Public Schools bus Wednesday has been charged in the accident.

Brenda S. Gray, 41, was charged with reckless driving, second-degree assault, second-degree possession of a controlled substance, driving with a suspended driver's license and driving without insurance.

According to Sgt. Brian Schmautz, a Portland police spokesman, Gray was driving at approximately 60 mph when her car ran a red light and hit the bus transporting special education students from Scott Elementary School. The accident occurred at Northeast Columbia Boulevard and 60th Avenue.

Gray and a passenger were transported to Legacy Emanuel Hospital & Health Center, where they were recovering Thursday from injuries. The bus driver and two students also were taken to the hospital, where it was determined that they were not injured.

STOWAWAYS

Colombians seek asylum

Attorneys for two Colombian stowaways found near death on a ship in the Columbia River recently said Thursday that the men are seeking asylum in the Umited States.

Susan Rossiter, executive director of Immigration Counseling Services, said both stowaways have been interviewed by asylum officers and were determined to have a 'credible fear' of future persecution if they returned to their native country.

By law, those who have a well-founded fear of persecution by race, religion, nationality, membership in a political group or political opinion may seek asylum.

Rossiter's client, Jhon Jairo Riasco Rivas, and the other stowaway, Omar Arenas, are both Afro-Colombians, a group comprising 26 percent of the country's population that has suffered from discrimination. Their asylum requests will be heard by a Portland judge Wednesday.

Both men are being held in INS custody at a local jail, as required by federal law. The INS has granted the two men parole with a $5,000 bond; Rossiter is asking for supporters' assistance in posting the bond.

The two men, who are in their 20s and speak only Spanish, arrived on a grain ship in the early morning of April 26.

They were treated for severe malnutrition, dehydration and other injuries after stowing away in a small rudder compartment for 12 days. A third man with them had died five days earlier of exposure.

OREGON SYMPHONY

Orchestra selects conductor

The Oregon Symphony has selected Carlos Kalmar as its new music director after an exhaustive three-year search.

Kalmar, 44, will usher in a new era for the symphony when he begins conducting in the 2003-2004 season. At that time, longtime music director James DePreist will assume his new role as laureate music director.

Members of the orchestra voted Thursday to select Kalmar, who is music director of Vienna's Tonkunstlerorchester and principal conductor of Chicago's Grant Park Music Festival.

Kalmar was among three finalists to guest conduct with the orchestra in the past year. Others were: Tadaaki Otaka, principal conductor of the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and Pavel Kogan, music director of the Moscow State Symphony Orchestras.

POLICE

Investigation clears officers

An internal investigation has cleared a group of Portland police officers of wrongdoing in the arrest of Jose Santos Victor Mejia Poot more than a year ago.

Witnesses to the incident on March 30, 2001, said they saw at least four officers use excessive force when they arrested Mejia outside a Plaid Pantry store at Northeast 72nd Avenue and Killingsworth Street.

Mejia, a 29-year-old Mexican national who had epilepsy and spoke only Spanish, had boarded a Tri-Met bus and was 20 cents short of his fare. The bus driver flagged down an officer, who charged Mejia with resisting arrest when he said Mejia shoved him. Doctors later said Mejia probably was having a seizure.

Two days later, Mejia was fatally shot by police in a Sellwood psychiatric hospital. Police said he was threatening them with a rod he had pulled from a door.

Capt. Darryl Schenk of the police bureau's internal affairs division said the two citizens who filed complaints about the arrest were notified recently that the allegations were unfounded.

Results of internal investigations may be appealed to the city's independent police review division.

Death ruled 'undetermined'

The Multnomah County medical examiner's office has classified the manner of death of a 24-year-old Portland man found dead last month with a phone cord wrapped around his neck as 'undetermined.'

Investigations by Portland Police Bureau homicide detectives and by the medical examiner's office concluded that the death of Maxwell Uffelman was not a homicide, said Dr. Nikolas Hartshorne, a deputy medical examiner.

'I've ruled out homicide; however, due to the investigation indicating a number of things, the manner of death will be classified as undetermined,' Hartshorne said. 'We just cannot determine the exact sequence of how he tangled himself in the cord Ñ whether he intentionally did it or accidentally did it.'

About 6 percent of 1,200 cases handled each year by the medical examiner's office are classified as undetermined, Hartshorne said.

The death stunned friends and family members, who said Uffelman, an avid snowboarder and local model, did not appear suicidal.

He was found dead early Saturday, April 20, with a metal pay-phone cord wrapped around his neck inside Suki's Restaurant & Lounge, where he had been with friends that evening.

Ñ Tribune staff