A distracted Oregon Department of Forestry worker was the lone supervisor at a work site last year when a prisoner with a violent history walked away and bludgeoned two women with a large tree branch in an isolated Washington County campground, according to state officials and investigative reports released Friday.
The worker, Kael Poklikuha, was in another area of the Gales Creek Campground at the time prisoner Jedaiah Lunn, 37, took off, according to his written account of the escape.
Lunn encountered two women as they foraged for moss with a dog along a narrow path leading out of the campground. He attacked them from behind, delivering repeated blows to their heads and arms, then stole one of the women’s car keys and left in the car.
Lunn was captured later that day on Sauvie Island, about 45 miles away.
The forestry worker’s account is included in investigative reports released in response to a public records request and fill in key details of the circumstances surrounding Lunn’s April 14 escape.
The Department of Forestry also provided answers to questions from The Oregonian/OregonLive.
Lunn was convicted Friday in Washington County Circuit Court of two counts of first-degree robbery and two counts of attempted first-degree murder.
He was sentenced to 34 ½ years in prison.
According to an Oregon State Police report, Poklikuha told investigators he last saw Lunn about 2:45 p.m. that day, though he wasn’t sure.
However, the Department of Forestry said that in its initial investigation, Poklikuha told a supervisor that he last saw Lunn about 12:30 p.m. that day.
Sometime after 3:15 p.m., another forestry worker who had come by the campground, alerted Poklikuha that transporting prisoners out of the campground might be difficult because of an unspecified emergency near the entrance.
By then, witnesses had called 911 to report the women had been attacked by a man who was covered in blood.
Poklikuha, meanwhile, walked up to the entrance and spoke with a police officer who told him two women had been beaten, according to the report.
It was about 3:40 p.m. by then and Poklikuha still was unaware that Lunn had escaped, the records indicated.
Poklikuha radioed back to a lead worker at the campground and told them to pack up and prepare to return to the state’s South Fork Forest Camp in Tillamook County.
He walked back to the area where the prisoners were gathered and learned Lunn was missing.
At 4 p.m., Poklikuha notified his supervisors that Lunn had escaped.
Poklikuha resigned as the investigation into the escape was underway.
The Department of Forestry said a second unnamed employee was disciplined for failing to perform their duties.
“This discipline followed an internal investigation by ODF Human Resources that found that the employee was deficient in properly training and supervising subordinate staff and that the employee did not ensure workplace policies and expectations were upheld and executed at South Fork Forest Camp,” the agency said in an email to The Oregonian/OregonLive.
The injured women are from Japan and live in Washington County. They are identified in court records only by their initials. Neither appeared in court in person. They listened by phone with the assistance of a Japanese translator.
They each wrote statements read aloud in court detailing the severity of their injuries and their grueling recovery.
One woman described ongoing vision and balance problems, persistent dizziness, a brain injury and the terror of being near men she does not know.
On the one-year anniversary of the attack, she experienced a panic attack.
“The wounds in the mind and body are not healed,” she wrote. “I feel worried I will continue to suffer from the aftereffects.”
The other woman endured multiple surgeries and lives with “constant agonizing pain in my arm.” She wrote that she used to love hiking but now is too afraid to walk on a trail again.
Lunn’s escape prompted a blistering response from the Japanese government about lax oversight of Oregon prisoners and led the state to pay the women a total of $9 million, among the largest payouts by the state in the past decade.
The Department of Forestry manages the prisoner work camp under an agreement with the Department of Corrections. The camp is a minimum-security prison that houses about 200 inmates who are within four years of release. Men assigned there work on crews that perform forest management and disaster relief in northwest Oregon.
During Lunn’s hearing, Lunn’s defense lawyer, Amanda Thibeault, Chief Deputy District Attorney Bracken McKey and Judge Andrew Erwin were unified in their condemnation of the state for its lack of oversight.
McKey told the judge that Lunn was allowed to be on a work crew despite his violent history and was under the supervision that day of a single Department of Forestry worker who looked after 10 men.
“The defendant was completely unsupervised,” McKey told the court. “He walked away from his work area and approached our two victims. … These two victims had no way of knowing based on the defendant’s appearance that he was a member of a prison work crew.”
The prosecutor said Lunn “nearly beat the two women to death” and left them with “permanent debilitating injuries” and “long-term neurological complications.”
The investigation concluded that Poklikuha was supposed to check on prisoners every 30 minutes, McKey said, “but in this case just did not do his job.”
Even after Poklikuha was told of a disturbance near the entrance to the campground, it did not dawn on him that “the reason those emergency vehicles were there was because one of their own had escaped,” McKey said.
Thibeault criticized the Department of Corrections for failing to provide “support, structure and security” for Lunn, who she said was under the influence of methamphetamine at the time of the attack.
Lunn was serving a three-year sentence for a home invasion robbery in Multnomah County when he escaped. He was convicted of second-degree robbery, a Measure 11 offense that comes with a mandatory minimum sentence.
According to court records in that case, Lunn broke into a Northeast Portland home in 2017, pointed a gun at a man and demanded money.
Authorities who tracked down and captured Lunn after his escape found heroin and a needle among the things he had with him.
She did not elaborate on how Lunn obtained methamphetamine that day and declined to answer questions about her remarks after the hearing.
“This really was the most preventable incident of all time,” she told the court. “I am surprised an incident like this hasn’t happened sooner.”
The defense attorney told the judge that Lunn “understands that nothing I can say nor he can say can ever undo his actions that day, but we are here today because Mr. Lunn in no uncertain terms wants to take complete and full accountability for his actions that day.”
Lunn, wearing orange-and-white jail scrubs and chained at the wrists and ankles, said he is tormented by his actions.
“I am ready and willing to accept any punishment that is deemed necessary by the state of Oregon,” he said, his voice wavering. “I feel so terrible about what I have done. Every day it’s hard for me to live with. I would do anything to take it back.”
Erwin said he found Lunn’s remorse to be genuine and said he remained puzzled by how someone who comes across as thoughtful could “engage in such horrific things.”
“I can’t reconcile the facts of this case with the way you have presented yourself,” the judge told him.
“You are something else when you are on methamphetamine,” he said. “You are able to unleash horror that’s hard for us to imagine.”
Erwin then directed his ire toward the Department of Corrections, saying Oregonians should be “appalled” by the agency.
He questioned how people in state custody have access to methamphetamine and how they are selected for work crews that have poor oversight, “no accountability, no training.”
“I would challenge every single citizen of this county,” he said, his voice rising in anger, “to be outraged by this.”
Acting Department of Corrections Director Heidi Steward declined to respond to the judge’s concerns specifically and instead issued a statement saying she’s “pleased to hear Mr. Lunn has been sentenced and that he will be held accountable for his horrific actions” and emphasizing “the strong partnership” the agency has with the Department of Forestry in operating the forest camp.
Cal Mukumoto, state forester and director of the Department of Forestry, issued a statement saying he hopes the resolution of the case “brings some closure for the women victimized by Mr. Lunn.”
The Department of Forestry said it had taken steps to tighten safety at the forest camp, including improving oversight, increasing signs so the public knows when prison work crews are present, increasing the number of checks made on prisoners, weeding out prisoners who are “not benefitting” from the work crew, performing spot checks of crews in the field and improving training.
Mukumoto said “recentering” public’s safety is the agency’s priority when it comes to the management of South Fork Forest Camp.