Powell Tragedy Leaves Lasting Effects on Students


Clarion photo Emma Bass

Dylan Chappell on 28th and Powell

Recently, chef and former restaurant owner Sarah Pliner, 50, was killed in an accident on the corner of Powell Boulevard and 26th, across from Cleveland High School.

On Oct. 4, Pliner was tragically killed on her bicycle as she collided with a semi-truck, heading to work at Bluto’s, the restaurant she was currently working at. There were many witnesses to this fatal accident,including nearby fast-food employees and students from Cleveland High School.

According to Cleveland student Lyrik Hembree, lots of cars were getting stopped by students suddenly crossing into the street, and there was “slightly reckless driving” on that day.
Hembree also adds that moments before the collision, she was behind a group of kids heading to Starbucks for lunch.

“The truck didn’t stop at all,” she said, adding that when the truck pulled away, “she was just lying on the (street).”

After a couple weeks had passed, Hembree explained how this incident no longer affects her daily, but “whenever someone mentions cars, trucks or general accidents, this incident is on the forefront of my mind.”

Cleveland High School student Scarlett Rendon, 15, continues to be negatively affected by this accident, one month after it occurred.. She adds how she, too, was walking towards Starbucks on Powell, going east. Like many others, her afternoon changed drastically that day.

“I saw somebody’s life taken away from them, just like that,” she said solemnly.

She mentioned how although it’s not Pliner’s fault that she was struck, the light was red, and many cyclists previous to her looked like they were turning before it was legal. Rendon adds that witnessing this tragedy had her shaken up for the rest of the week.

“Grief,” she said. “You don’t realize it’s there, but everything you do is affected by it.”

Bela Mast, freshman, was also waiting on the Cleveland side of the intersection. She was talking to friends when “loud honking started.”

“I was shocked and confused,” she said, while also adding, “I was kind of unfazed.”

Mast explained how Portland, Oregon has had so many fatal accidents involving cyclists and dangerous highways, that it’s not really surprising anymore.

Although her statement is true, it’s a reality Portlanders have to live with; knowing that it’s very common for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians to be hit and killed daily.

According to Willamette Week, in 2021, Portland had the highest number of traffic deaths in over three decades, which is 63.

In an analysis done by the Portland Bureau of Transportation, they identified the two main reasons for fatalities in this city: “the lack of enforcement of traffic laws, and speed and impairment.”

In addition, traffic stops are down 90% from before the COVID-19 pandemic. In the beginning of 2020 there were 4,678 traffic stops in the Portland area, and now we’re left with less than 500 (Portland Police Bureau).

In response to Sarah Pliner’s death, the City of Portland and the State of Oregon have taken small steps, like reducing the speed limit to 20 mph rather than the previous 30 mph around Cleveland High School, and creating new school zones to ensure students’ safety and comfortability around our city’s busy streets.

Many Portlanders have tried to reason with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), since members of this department have avoided seeking out solutions to decrease the amount of accidents that occur on this highway. In the past few weeks, a number of organizations have advocated for re-adding a green bike lane on Powell Boulevard and 26th to make transportation around the Portland Metro area a safe environment for everyone, including cyclists (BikePortland).