Four people were killed early Sunday after a driver crashed into a homeless encampment in Salem, Oregon, police said.
The crash, at the intersections of Front Street NE and Division Street NE, occurred around 2 a.m. Two people died at the scene, and another two were transported to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, which they later succumbed to.
The driver of the two-door sports car was also hospitalized for injuries, police said. None of the victims, nor the driver, have been identified as of Sunday evening. The cause of the crash remains under investigation, but police said they believe alcohol was a factor.
Witnesses described a horrifying scene in which they tried to save their friends from the wreckage. One of them, Nathan Rose, told the Salem Statesman Journal that the car barely missed the tent that he and his girlfriend had been in at the moment of the crash. When Rose exited the tent after hearing a loud noise, he saw the vehicle pinning people, at least some of whom were his friends, to the ground.
“The moment I saw what had happened, first thing I did was drop my phone and call 911,” Rose told the Statesman Journal. “From there, it was just chaos.”
Police said they did not know the exact number of people who had been camping on the grassy median, but three survivors were taken to a local motel.
Salem City Councilor Vanessa Nordyke said in a Facebook post that she was in contact with local organizations and officials to support people without a home who live at the site of the crash, including offering grief counseling. She also criticized the “reckless actions of the driver,” as well as the people on social media she said she’s seen blaming the victims of the incident.
“It’s only been a matter of hours, but I’m already seeing social media posts blaming the homeless for camping near a busy street. As if they deserved to die,” Nordyke wrote. “The dehumanization of the unsheltered, especially in a time of immense suffering and grief, is completely unacceptable. Salem is better than that.”
Salem has hundreds of residents who are unhoused, many of whom camp in parks and other outdoor areas. Shelters are frequently full and have to turn away people in need of a bed, according to the Salem Reporter.