PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — An Oregon Coast fire chief is facing criticism for allegedly intervening on behalf of his wife in a crash that nearly sparked a roadside brawl.
Damon and Tamara Derby of Waldport say they are threatening to sue the Central Oregon Coast Fire and Rescue District, its chief and the State of Oregon after a seemingly routine traffic investigation involving a motorcyclist and the fire chief’s wife nearly spiraled into a clash along Highway 101 in the coastal town of Bayshore.
The incident began when Oregon Coast Fire and Rescue District Chief Jamie Mason took command of a crash scene involving his wife’s SUV and a motorcyclist along Highway 101 in Lincoln County on July 2, according to the report of the crash obtained by KOIN 6 News.
The incident was outlined in a detailed report filed by Seal Rock Fire Captain Joe Munger, who witnessed the “crazy” series of events that morning. In the report, Munger states that Seal Rock firefighters were responding to the crash near the intersection of Highway 101 and Bayview Road at around 6 a.m. when they witnessed Mason and firefighter John Townley approaching the scene from the opposite direction in a Central Oregon Coast Fire and Rescue District vehicle.
“[Mason’s vehicle] announced [its] arrival, though I could clearly see that the unit was still enroute,” Munger’s report reads. “[Mason] further advised [he] was in command [of the scene].”
Arriving at the crash site seconds after the COCFRD firefighters, Munger found motorcyclist Damon Derby suffering from crash-related injuries, though he declined medical treatment, and the driver of a 2016 Land Rover Discovery who he later recognized as Jamie Mason’s wife Ericka Mason. From that point, Munger’s report describes a tense crash investigation filled with shouting, name-calling, chest-puffing and questionable ethical decisions.
“[Jamie] Mason advised me that Seal Rock units could clear, since he had arrived before us and was familiar with the incident,” the report states. “He told me Seal Rock was ‘not needed.’ I did not question Mason about how he had become ‘familiar’ with the incident, but declined to leave since the accident was obviously located in Seal Rock jurisdiction. Mason did not acknowledge my decision to remain, but walked away from me immediately upon asking Seal Rock to clear.”
Damon Derby and his wife Tamara Derby, who drove to the scene of the crash in her own vehicle, told firefighters that Ericka Mason abruptly crossed over into Damon Derby’s lane and stopped her SUV, causing him to skid the motorcycle on its side to avoid a crash with her SUV.
“[Derby] was obviously agitated, and said he was in pain,” Munger’s report reads. “I observed him to be clutching at his abdomen and to have abrasions to his arm.”
While interviewing Damon Derby, Munger said that Tamara Derby started to make unknown comments to the Masons that sparked a tense argument between the two married couples.
“Whatever her comments may have been, they seemed to infuriate Chief Mason, who then aggressively moved toward us as if to assault Mr. Derby,” Munger’s report said. “The scene became fairly chaotic at this point. Mason yelled at Mr. Derby, saying: ‘You need to shut up! This is your fault!'”
Damon Derby responded with barbs directed at Mason’s body, according to the report.
Mason allegedly responded with his own insults, which nearly sparked a husband-versus-husband roadside brawl, the report shows. Tamara Derby said she captured the quarrel on her phone, which she uses to run a popular TikTok account that documents her experiences living on the Oregon Coast. While Tamara Derby said that she’d like to share the video of the incident with the public, she claimed her lawyers advised her not to share the videos at this time.
“Mason got close enough to Derby that their chests were touching,” Munger’s report reads. “It appeared to me as though a physical altercation between the men was imminent. Derby yelled that Mason should not be involved in the incident and that Mason was attempting to cover up the fact that it was Mason’s wife who had caused the collision. He hurled insults at Mason and used expletives. Mason responded in kind, also cursing. Mason yelled to Derby to calm down. Mason said: ‘You were going too fast. If you had slowed down, this wouldn’t have happened!’ Derby replied: ‘How … would you know? You weren’t even here! You’re taking her side because she’s your wife!’”
Following the argument, Mason radioed dispatch for a law enforcement response, prompting Damon Derby to say: “Oh yeah, call your friends,” the report says.
“‘Oh yeah, I have friends. We’ll see how this turns out,’” Mason allegedly responded.
Oregon State Police Game Warden Maleri Cates responded to the scene and began conducting a traffic investigation. While Cates was on scene, Tamara Derby said the Masons admitted she was a friend and the three were allegedly seen laughing together throughout the investigation.
“[The OSP warden] is a friend of the chief and his wife per their admission on the scene,” Derby said. “He called her after threatening us because I asked his wife if she was drunk or high and what the hell was wrong with her. She didn’t do any testing for driving under the influence, but she ran Damon to check for warrants and most of her time was spent standing by the chief and his wife joking and laughing while my husband was suffering.”
While Cates pulled the drivers aside to discuss the crash, Munger’s report states that a now calmer Mason approached him and admitted that his response was a “conflict of interest.”
“The trooper had taken Derby across Bayview Road to interview him, and I stood by the motorcycle,” Munger’s report states. “Mason came up to me and said ‘I’m glad you were here, so John [Townley] had backup.’ He told me he shouldn’t be involved in the call at all because of a conflict of interest, and that Townley should be in command.”
After conducting her investigation, Cates officially issued Ericka Mason a $265 ticket for failing to drive within her lane on July 2.
Weeks after the ordeal, Tamara Derby says she attempted to address the incident with COCFR officials during their regularly scheduled business meeting on July 20, which was broadcast live to YouTube. However, shortly after she approached the board to speak during the meeting’s public comment section, the video’s audio suddenly and mysteriously cuts out. While the video portion continues, the audio is incomprehensible. Derby said she thinks this strange occurrence was another attempt by the COCFR to “cover up” the incidents of July 2.
“It is my opinion that they intentionally muted things,” she said. “I find it to be too much of a coincidence.”
Chief Mason told KOIN 6 News that all questions surrounding the potential lawsuit must be directed to the COCFR Board of Directors. However, he denied tampering with the meeting audio. While Derby can initially be heard during the first few seconds of her discussion, and the audio remains garbled for all other speakers for the rest of the meeting, Mason insisted that Derby was talking too softly for the mics to pick up her voice.
“It wasn’t cut out, it’s the fact that the mics that are used in the room only pick up so much,” Mason said. “We’re looking at changing out the system because of this … We’ve had many issues with our audio many times before.”
It’s unclear at this time what caused the meeting audio to drop out. While many details surrounding the impending litigation remain unclear, Oregon Government Ethics Commission Compliance and Education Coordinator Susan Myers said that if COCFR officials intentionally altered the meeting audio or used their power to prevent any financial losses, like those caused my a civil lawsuit, they may have violated Oregon’s Governing Ethics Code and Public Records and Meetings Laws.
“No public official shall use or attempt to use an official position to obtain financial gain or avoid financial detriment,” an Oregon Government Ethics code statute states. “Oregon’s ethics laws prohibit each public official from gaining a financial benefit or avoiding a financial cost as a result of his or her position.”
Mason told KOIN 6 News that he does not believe he used his authority inappropriately during last month’s unusual events. However, COCFR is actively working with legal professionals to better protect its board members moving forward.
“I have an appointment with legal on [Aug. 2] regarding the accusations that are wildly false,” he said.
As of Aug. 2, no lawsuit has been filed against the board in relation to the events. However, Derby said that her family plans to take official legal action in the coming days.
“We’re going to be suing the fire department, the board and the state,” Derby said. “We’re suing everybody. It’s not about the money, what they did was so wrong, so unjust and so inappropriate that I don’t have the words to explain it. They need to take accountability.”