News for those who live, work and play in the Santiam Canyon

County seeks dismissal of fire death claims

Marion County says there is no evidence it failed to appropriately issue evacuation warnings for the Labor Day 2020 Santiam Fire and asked claims in a related wrongful death lawsuit to be dismissed.

On Sept. 22, the county filed a motion in Cook vs. PacifiCorp et al arguing plaintiffs have failed to make their case against the county and the court should rule in its favor.

As of press time plaintiffs had yet to respond to the motion and a hearing to argue the matter was not scheduled.

Plaintiffs filed suit in 2021 in Multnomah County Circuit Court seeking damages for the deaths of Cathy Cook, 71, and son Justin Cook, 41, who died during fire evacuations Sept. 8, 2020. The Cooks’ family is seeking $40 million for wrongful death from defendants including PacifiCorp, Marion County and Consumers Power, Inc.

PacifiCorp was found liable for the fire in a separate class action lawsuit June 12 and is currently challenging the verdict.

The Cook lawsuit claims Marion County learned of the potential severity of the fire Sept. 6, 2020, and did not issue a voluntary evacuation notice until the following morning. A mandatory evacuation notice for the entire Santiam Canyon was posted to Facebook Sept. 8, 2020, and plaintiffs claim this was inadequate as cell service was lost in most of the region at that time.

In its Sept. 22 motion, Marion County did not dispute these events and said the voluntary evacuation notice included a warning that future notices may not be accessible. It also said sheriff’s deputies attempted door-to-door warnings for the mandatory notice, but fire conditions where the Cooks lived on North Fork Road SE were too dangerous.

The county argued no rational person could have foreseen how rapidly the fire would spread and its actions could not be considered unreasonable. 

The motion further argued the county has discretion as a matter of policy over whether or not and how evacuation notices are issued, and is therefore immune under state tort restrictions.

Former defendants METCOM and the Stayton Fire District were removed from the suit in March after the court ruled there was no legal basis to hold them responsible for the deaths.

A similar lawsuit by the survivors of Peggy Mosso, 71, and grandson Wyatt Tofte, 13, who also died during the evacuation of Lyons, remains pending in Multnomah County. Plaintiffs in this case are seeking $102 million.

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