The growing problem of abandoned RVs has hit home for a Central Point couple who face a major clean-up bill after someone left a garbage-filled trailer in their private driveway in the middle of the night.
The Jackson County Sheriff's Office has posted photos of the large Fleetwood Wilderness Cimarron travel trailer on its Facebook page and is appealing to the public to help crack the case.
"We need more information to track down the person(s) who abandoned the trailer so we can hold them responsible," the sheriff's office said in its Facebook post.
Anyone with information about the trailer or who may have left it is asked to call the sheriff's office at 541-774-6800. Refer to case number 18-509.
"We hope someone will recognize the picture of the trailer," said Dalton Straus, who is now legally responsible for cleaning up the abandoned trailer on his driveway.
A cattle rancher, Straus and his wife, Ruth, live in the 5700 block of Upton Road just north of Central Point.
About a week ago, Straus said someone dumped a safe and junk on his property. He called the sheriff's office, and a deputy came and took the safe away since it likely was connected to a crime.
Early this week in the middle of the night, someone drove onto his driveway in a pickup, pulling the dilapidated travel trailer, which has flat tires and broken windows.
Straus said he doesn't know whether the two dumping incidents are related.
Straus said the people in the pickup got stuck in an irrigation ditch as they were trying to get the pickup loose from the trailer. One of his employees came across the situation in the night, and the people in the pickup asked him to pull them out. The employee told them his boss would be able to help them in the morning.
About four hours later, someone else came and helped pull the pickup out, said Straus, who pieced together what happened based on accounts by his employee and a neighbor who witnessed part of the incident.
Straus called the sheriff's office again and a deputy examined the trailer on Monday.
The trailer was left behind with no license plate or identification number, according to the sheriff's office.
"Here it is sitting in my driveway, looking pretty ugly," Straus said. "It's no joking matter to me."
Sheriff's Sgt. Julie Denney said the problem of abandoned recreational vehicles is growing. Private and public property owners long have had to deal with the problem of trash being dumped on land, but the issue is especially difficult when a motor home or trailer is abandoned on private land.
"It happens quite often," she said. "The problem we run into with people dumping things on private property is the law requires the property owner to be responsible for the clean-up. If we can't identify the suspect and hold them responsible, the property owner is left with the burden of paying to clean it up."
Ronn Crews, fleet manager for Dick's Towing & Transport, said the problem of abandoned RVs is rampant locally and throughout the state.
"An epidemic is going on. It's virtually impossible to get rid of them," he said. "That's why people are dumping them."
Local towing companies have contracts to work with law enforcement agencies and take turns removing abandoned vehicles from public roads, he said.
When it comes to private land, towing companies aren't required to remove abandoned vehicles, Crews said.
Removing abandoned vehicles from public roads doesn't generate much money and can be extremely costly and labor-intensive for towing companies when RVs are involved, Crews said.
"We aren't reimbursed. When you dump an RV, you've dumped the problem on someone else," he said. "It's a recent problem that has been rearing its ugly head. Everyone's behind the eight ball on it a little bit."
Crews said law enforcement agencies and towing companies have begun searching for a more equitable solution to the growing problem of abandoned RVs.
Towing companies agree to be in the abandoned vehicle-removal rotation so they can be on the more lucrative list to impound vehicles and tow away vehicles involved in crashes, Crews said.
If a towing company has to take in an RV, it takes about $1,000 to $1,500 in labor costs to remove the engine, transmission, appliances and other parts. The company then has to pay disposal fees to get rid of appliances and trash, he said.
Falling scrap metal prices mean people get less for any recyclable metal, Crews said.
He said the burgeoning marijuana industry is also partly to blame for the rising number of abandoned RVs.
"They live in it during the growing season and then dump it," Crews said.
Because of the difficulty and cost in disposing of old RVs, many owners will give them away or sell them at rock-bottom prices. A car-crushing lot can charge $1,000 to $1,500 to dismantle an RV, Willamette Week reported in a 2017 article about the skyrocketing number of lived-in and abandoned RVs on Portland streets.
Denney said private property owners with abandoned RVs on their land are in a tight spot.
"Towing companies won't even come and get them anymore if they're on private property," she said.
Old RVs have typically gone through a number of owners since the last time they were legally registered, Denney said.
As for why a garbage-filled trailer ended up on Straus' private driveway, Denney said some people don't want to pay to dump their garbage at a landfill, so they store it inside an old RV.
Abandoning a vehicle is a traffic violation. A person who abandons a vehicle can be held responsible for towing and disposition fees, Denney said.
"The problem is in identifying who did it," she said.
Before Straus can have an abandoned vehicle towed from his driveway, Oregon law requires him to fill out a form and affix a notice on the trailer warning it will be towed if it is not removed. The notice must remain on the vehicle for 72 hours.
Straus said he will have to pay a substantial amount to have someone clean the garbage out of the trailer and take the trash to a landfill. He estimated it will take eight to 10 hours to dismantle the trailer. The frame will then have to be taken to a metal recycling yard.
Since his property has now been targeted at least twice this month by illegal dumpers, Straus said he will have to put up more security cameras to try to identify culprits.
He said he doesn't yet know the full costs he will incur dealing with the garbage-filled trailer, but he has no choice but to clean up someone else's mess.
"We're stuck between a rock and a hard place," Straus said.