Community, Creswell

Coop’s widow seeking closure: ‘I didn’t get to say goodbye’

EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE

Candy Coop, on her front porch with pugs Phoebe, dark fur, and Bruce, who was a constant companion for Mike and was in the truck when the accident happened.

CRESWELL – It’s a new year, but not a very happy one for Candy Coop.

It’s been over 15 months since her husband, Creswell’s Mike Coop, was tragically killed by a fallen tree on Hamm Road. Candy was hoping she’d be feeling a sense of closure by now.

Things haven’t worked out that way. 

“This should be such a cut-and-dried case,” Coop said. “There was so much negligence involved, it should be negligent homicide or involuntary manslaughter.”

Instead? The criminal case was dropped in October 2019, weeks after the Sept. 3, 2019 accident.

“For them to close it that soon, how can anybody say that they did a thorough investigation?” Coop questioned.

Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow said that after speaking with prosecutor Bob Lane, it was decided the case would be reduced to a civil suit if Coop wanted to seek a judgment.

“I’ve read the OSHA reports, I’ve read the police reports and while, yes, (the tree cutter) was committing some violations of the rules of falling trees, none of those had anything to do with the reason the tree fell the way it did across the roadway,” Perlow said in August 2020. 

Since that time, Coop has indeed filed a civil suit against the tree cutter, Jeff Casto, but she says the case is moving at a snail’s pace … and not just because of Covid.

“Casto keeps asking for more time,” Coop said. “He’s still working, cutting down trees. His nephew who was on the job with him that day? We were told he was too disabled to be flagging people. But six weeks later he went to work for somebody else.” 

So Coop is left in limbo, pondering what’s next from her cozy chair on the porch of her spacious, country-style home on Cloverdale Road. As she pets her aging Pug dogs, Phoebe and Bruce, she said she’d like to think she’ll get some form of justice for this nightmare that won’t go away.

And what a nightmarish saga this has been.

Let’s go back to the beginning. 

Mike Coop

Mike was supposed to be driving over to meet his father, Duane, on that fateful day. 

“My daughter called me, and she said, ‘Is Mike OK?’” Coop said. “I said yeah, and she said, ‘My boyfriend just called and said Duane Coop’s son was killed in a logging accident.’

She was finding it hard to believe the news when her daughter arrived at the house, and showed her another text “asking if Mike was in an accident and if he was OK. So I called his dad’s house and he wasn’t there.”

This is where the plot thickens … 

“Then Butch pulled in the driveway and I knew what happened.”

‘Kindness of his heart’ 

Francis “Butch” Gabrielson, a longtime family acquaintance, said he wanted to help Candy sell pieces of logging equipment that Mike had used as part of his own business “out of the kindness of his heart and his love for Mike,” she said.

So she agreed. Gabrielson sold a 527 Cat to Dick Gilkison for $200,000 – then told Coop he got $170,000 for it. He then sold a 240 Link Belt to Tower Timber for $100,000 – and told Coop he let it go for $85,000. 

EMMA ROUTLEY/THE CHRONICLE

Mike Coop collected and maintained several pieces of heavy equipment, some of which still rests on his property.

By asking for two checks from each buyer, Gabrielson had skimmed $45,000 off the top. Fortunately, the buyers smelled a rat, and called the police. Lane County Sheriff’s Office deputies arrested Gabrielson – despite his pleas that “he had plenty of money of his own and didn’t need Candy’s money,” according to the police report – on two counts of aggravated theft by deception. Coop agreed she would not seek additional charges after Danielson returned the $45,000. 

That wasn’t the only money snafu that Coop had to deal with while grieving over the loss of her husband. Since Mike bought and sold a lot of equipment, he was traveling that day with between $10,000 and $15,000 in his glove box. A number of people had opportunity to go inside his yellow 2011 Dodge Ram pickup truck after it crashed into a ditch. When the day was done, there was just $340 remaining – two $100 bills in the glove box and $140 in Mike’s wallet.

During the LCSO investigation, Officer Kenneth Clark was approached by the homeowner, Daniel Lee, who said he saw people shoving cash back into the glove box and center console. When Clark went over to look for the money, all he found was the $340. 

“I have my opinions on what happened to that money,” Coop said. “But there were a few people rummaging through there, so who knows what might have happened.” 

According to the police report, Casto was felling the tree while his nephew Christopher, and Lee, were watching. Casto said he had all of his wedges prepped for the tree to fall to the southeast, away from the road, where they had already felled several trees. He said the tree started to fall, but spun and popped backward, causing it to fall in the direction of Hamm Road. Casto tried to run down and warn the driver, but to no avail. He then watched the tree collide with Coop’s pickup. 

Once the vehicle came to rest, the three men ran down to check on Coop and Lee called 9-1-1. After seeing Coop’s insurance card, Casto realized he was dealing with a longtime family acquaintance. He struggled to break into the truck, but Casto finally got through the passenger side. He said Coop was unconscious and was having difficulty breathing. Also, he noticed a big branch – later measured to be 32 inches long – had poked through the windshield and impaled Coop’s chest next to his right shoulder. Casto removed the branch and then, with Lee’s help, moved Coop onto the asphalt.

Rescue efforts unsuccessful

Fire personnel arrived shortly thereafter and began performing CPR and other life-saving measures. They worked on him for 10 minutes, Lorane Assistant Fire Chief Jim Rainer said. Casto, who told police that Coop was a family friend he had known for over 15 years, held Mike’s hand while rescue workers tried to revive him. 

Those efforts ultimately failed, and Michael Duane Coop, age 59, was pronounced dead at 2:48 p.m. by medics on the scene. Candy said deputies showed up at her door at 7 that night, more than four hours later. 

“They wanted Duane’s number (at the scene), but they didn’t even ask about his wife,” she said. 

Still unsettling to Candy Coop are all the shortcuts – and the wrong cuts – made by Casto and his partner that day. She said they were cutting a tree just past the county property line with a tag on it to prevent cutting. 

“I don’t understand why the county hasn’t gone after them,” Coop said. “You don’t cut anything next to the road without proper signage. He didn’t even have a permit for cutting.” 

Candy and Mike Coop

Candy’s brother, Jeremy Trout, said the case looks like a slam-dunk to him.

“There was so much negligence – this whole thing is a case of blatant negligence,” Trout said. “Nobody was watching the road when the accident happened. The flagger was sitting in his pickup. And they were trying to make the tree fall into another tree that hadn’t fallen all the way down.”

Meanwhile, Coop sits and waits in that comfy chair on her front porch. 

“The hardest part is … well, besides the way it happened … I didn’t get to say goodbye,” Coop said.

***

Editor’s note: The printed version of this story in The Chronicle misidentified Francis “Butch” Gabrielson. A correction will be published in the Jan. 21, 2021 edition of the weekly newspaper.

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