Stabbing suspect's aunt: Family tried to prevent attack

Stabbing suspect's aunt: Family tried to prevent attack »Play Video

OREGON CITY, Ore. - A man riding on a TriMet bus late Tuesday night yelled racist slurs, fought with passengers and the driver, stabbed three people and bit another, Oregon City Police said.

The suspect's aunt told KATU News on Wednesday that his family tried to get him mental help to prevent an attack like this from happening.

The three stabbing victims are in stable condition and do not have life-threatening injuries, police said Wednesday morning.

The incident began at a bus stop for Line 33 near Molalla Avenue and Clairmont Way just before 11 p.m.

Police said Austin William Vanhagen, 19, was yelling racial slurs on the bus but it was unclear who they were directed at. Police said the bus driver is an African American and there were other "bi-racial passengers" on the bus at the time.

Vanhagen's aunt told KATU News his family is frustrated because they tried to warn authorities that he was becoming dangerous and unpredictable.

"I think this could have been prevented," said Vanhagen's aunt Cheryl Jordan. "I feel bad for these people and I'm also praying for them. "I'm just horrified as my sister is as well."

Jordan said her nephew moved to an Oregon City mobile home park after he lost his job in California.

"He can be a good kid. But when he goes into this, these rages, it's not good," Jordan said.

Passenger John Olechea said Vanhagen appeared to be intoxicated when he got on the bus but was calm and appeared to be talking to his girlfriend on his cell phone.

Then, Olechea, who is Caucasian, said Vanhagen uttered a racial slur at him and punched him in the head near his right eye. "He was getting off [the bus] and he punched me for no reason," he said. He was not seriously hurt.

Once off the bus at the bus stop, police said Vanhagen got in a fight with a man who had been on the bus. Police said Vanhagen then got back onto the bus and that was when another passenger and the driver got involved.

The two men who tangled with Vanhagen were each stabbed five times, police said. A third person was bitten in the scuffle and the driver was stabbed once in the stomach.

Police eventually arrived and twice fired stun weapons at Vanhagen to get him under control.

Olechea said the attack on himself and others was unprovoked. "I think he was way wasted," he said. "He couldn't even walk when he got on" the bus but was calm and talking on a cell phone before the incident began, Olechea said.

Olechea said the only person on the bus who did not get hurt was a female passenger. He also said he was friends with the driver and was worried about him.

The driver, who has not been identified, had surgery early Wednesday morning, TriMet said in a statement released Wednesday.

The Transit Police Division gave video from the bus to Oregon City Police. TriMet said it would not release the video during the ongoing investigation.

Derek Taylor said he was getting off work when he came upon the scene while people were being taken away by an ambulance. "He just didn't look like he wasn't all there," Taylor said after seeing the suspect immobilized while being taken away on a stretcher.

"It's kind of scary, I could have been on that bus, you know," Taylor said.

Vanhagen is in custody at the Clackamas County Jail and is initially charged with three counts of assault II, three counts of unlawful use of a weapon, one count of Intimidation and one count of assault IV. He lives in an area close to Oregon City, police said.

Statement from TriMet:

TriMet is greatly concerned whenever an employee or any passenger is assaulted on our system. We know that the entire TriMet family shares their concern for the operator’s welfare and for a speedy recovery. We also share our concern for the welfare of the passengers that were also wounded in the assault. This is a tragic incident.
Our operator had surgery early this morning, and our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family. Due to HIPAA, we do not have any further information on his condition.

We are working closely with the Oregon City Police Department as they lead the investigation into the assault on Line 33 last night. The Transit Police Division has the video from the bus and they are providing it to the Oregon City Police Department to assist in the investigation.

We are not releasing the operator’s name at this time in respect for the family.
The video is part of an active criminal investigation and not releasable at this time.

No other information is available for release at this time. Our statement will serve as our comments on this issue, and we will not be providing any interviews at this time.