Attendees at casino fundraiser were concerned sheriff candidate would drive

Records about an April 1 car crash involving sheriff candidate and former Columbia County deputy Dave Fuller have been released to the Spotlight after Columbia County District Attorney Steve Atchinson determined the records met the conditions for release. Previously, the county had declined to release the report following The Spotlight’s request.

In statements to the Spotlight, Fuller denied being intoxicated at the time of the crash, saying the investigation into his conduct was politically motivated.

On March 31, he had driven to Longview, Wash., and then traveled by bus to a nearby casino with more than 40 people, including police officers and emergency responders, as part of a fundraiser for the Clatskanie Volunteer Fire Department. He said he had “a few drinks” over a five-hour span at the casino.

The bus dropped him off at his red Subaru early in the morning. As he was driving home to Scappoose, a deer jumped in the roadway, he said. He said he swerved to avoid hitting it and crashed. He did not report the accident.

When the crash came to light, it triggered an Oregon State Police criminal investigation and a Sheriff’s Office internal personnel investigation. Fuller was placed on administrative leave. He retired in September before the internal investigation concluded.

OSP cited Fuller for failure to report the crash. Following a review by the District Attorney’s office, he faces no additional charges. Atchison said there was no evidence to support an indictment.

After reading the reports written primarily by investigating OSP Trooper Tyler Bechtel, the Spotlight has learned the following information about the crash investigation:

n The crash first came to light after a barista, Sheriff Jeff Dickerson’s stepdaughter, relayed a conversation she had with a man who had come into her workplace. The man told her he had attended a fundraiser at a Longview-area casino on March 31.

He mentioned Fuller. The barista asked him, “The guy who’s running for sheriff?” Yes, and he was “sloppy drunk” on the return bus ride, the man said.

The barista notified the Sheriff’s Office and Dickerson alerted the Oregon State Police, launching an investigation into the crash.

In an interview with investigators later, the man told a modified version of this same story.

n Nearly everyone was drinking, many of the fundraiser attendees later told Bechtel.

“We were all intoxicated,” one woman told Bechtel, adding that she believed Fuller was intoxicated as well.

At one point on the return trip, the woman said, Fuller stood up and gave a short speech, telling everyone he was running for sheriff. She believes he was slurring, but other witnesses later said they couldn’t tell if he was intoxicated or just nervous about speaking in public.

When Bechtel asked about the speech, Fuller said he did not remember ever getting up and talking to the crowd.

n Witnesses told Bechtel they thought Fuller was intoxicated on the ride back. They said he was talking loudly and acting friendlier than usual, but he was not “falling down drunk.” Many thought he shouldn’t drive and some recalled him saying he planned to sleep in his car before driving back home. When asked, Fuller told Bechtel he did not remember making such statements.

n One woman told Bechtel that she would not have felt comfortable riding in a car Fuller was driving after the casino event. She said his eyes appeared glassy and there was “no doubt in her mind that Fuller was intoxicated.”

n Fuller’s supervisor, Sergeant Russ George, who had worked with Fuller in various capacities at the Sheriff’s Office since 1993, also thought Fuller was intoxicated. In an interview with Bechtel, George said in hindsight he should have talked to Fuller, but added he was annoyed with the whole situation and “just wanted out of there.” He said he “had mixed emotions about going in the first place.”

n Fuller told the Spotlight he did not report the car accident because he didn’t believe it met reporting requirements of over $1,500 in damage to his own or anyone else’s property. However, the tow truck driver who responded to Fuller’s call for a tow estimated the damage at $2,000.

Fuller later told investigators he had the car repaired for less than that but was unable to produce receipts. He also said he had received an estimate of the damage from a local Les Schwab, but didn’t have any papers to indicate this and couldn’t remember the amount of the estimate when Bechtel asked him. The Les Schwab stores in Scappoose and St. Helens had no record of an estimate for damage to Fuller’s car.

n The tow truck driver and a 911 dispatcher, who had attended the fundraiser event and stopped on her way home when she saw Fuller’s crashed car, said they did not see any sign of a deer in the area.

The records were released Monday afternoon. Spotlight efforts to reach Fuller before press time Tuesday were unsuccessful.

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