Autopsy results awaited in chase death

A Medford man who acquaintances said had been on a drug binge in recent days died in police custody late Tuesday following a car and foot chase that crossed Interstate 5 and ended near McAndrews Road.

Medford Police Department investigators are awaiting the results of an autopsy that could shed light on the death of Joseph Matthew Vavrosky, 42, of the 200 block of Elm Street.

Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said an Oregon State Police trooper tried to stop a vehicle at 9:32 p.m. Tuesday on Stewart Avenue as part of a countywide drunken driving crackdown. The man driving the vehicle, later identified as Vavrosky, refused to stop and fled, merging onto northbound Interstate 5.

After crossing the I-5 viaduct, Vavrosky pulled over, got out of the car and ran toward Biddle Road, leaving a passenger behind, Budreau said.

Budreau said Medford officers had heard about the chase over the radio and were nearby.

Vavrosky climbed over the freeway fence and attempted to hide in the area near the viaduct. Medford police established a perimeter in the area in the hopes of keeping Vavrosky from escaping.

Two Medford officers soon saw Vavrosky trying to go back over the fence on the east side of the freeway.

The officers feared Vavrosky would jump the fence and flee across the freeway, so they shot their Tasers, which did not appear to have an effect.

The Taser probes most likely did not make contact with Vavrosky's skin or clothing, Budreau said.

"The officers deployed their Tasers from about 20 feet, so we believe the probes did not hit him," Budreau said.

For a Taser to be effective, both probes must make contact with a suspect, Budreau said.

"We know that at least one probe struck a tree branch," Budreau said.

Vavrosky was able to escape the officers and scaled the fence, then sprinted west across the freeway.

The officers did not pursue him and lost sight of him as he darted across the westbound lanes of Interstate 5.

"They saw him jump away from a tractor-trailer that was driving on the interstate," Budreau said. "It was a near miss."

A few minutes later, Vavrosky was spotted lying in the bushes on the bike path near McAndrews Road. Vavrosky obeyed orders to leave the bushes and was taken into custody without a struggle, police said.

As the officers walked him out of the bushes, he collapsed and soon died despite emergency medical help, police said.

"There was no struggle to get him into handcuffs," Budreau said. "He complied with our orders and there was no force used."

It is not known if Vavrosky suffered from a medical condition that could have led to his death following the chase, Budreau said.

"(The officers) immediately started lifesaving procedures and called for an ambulance," Budreau said. An ambulance then took Vavrosky to Providence Medford Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead.

The incident will be reviewed to ensure there were no missteps by officers.

"Basically it is an in-custody death," said Budreau. "All in-custody deaths are treated very seriously and are investigated by the Major Assault and Death Investigation Unit, per protocol."

Investigators did learn that Vavrosky had spent the previous days on a drug binge.

"From speaking with his friends and family, we learned that he had consumed a considerable amount of drugs days before the chase," Budreau said.

The investigation revealed Vavrosky had an outstanding warrant for failing to appear in court on a previous charge of possession of methamphetamine. He was also on parole for eluding police and unlawful use of a motor vehicle.

An autopsy and toxicology report has been scheduled, Budreau said. The results of the toxicology test could take weeks to return.

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email

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