Mental evaluations sought in cases

A man accused of killing three people in a December crash on Highway 26 went to the state hospital last week for a mental evaluation to see if he is fit to stand trial, the district attorney said.

Nathan James Verhaeghe, 31, of Spokane is accused of three counts of second-degree manslaughter, second-degree assault, two counts of recklessly endangering another person and reckless driving.

The manslaughter and assault charges are Class B felonies and the other charges are misdemeanors.

Wasco County District Attorney Eric Nisley said Verhaeghe was taken to the Oregon State Hospital for the mental evaluation.

Verhaeghe was westbound on Highway 26 on Dec. 26 and hit the rear of a 2006 Toyota Matrix, pushing the Matrix into the oncoming lane, where it struck a 2013 Chrysler van.

The Matrix driver, Adam Clausen, 37, and a passenger, his wife, Shannon O'Leary, 39, both of Portland, were killed. Their 4-year-old son, also in the vehicle, was injured.

The Chrysler van driver, Robert Burke, 34, of Reno, Nevada, was killed. Two passengers — Rachel Burke, 29, also of Reno, and their 22-month-old son— were injured.

Verhaeghe also was injured.

O’Leary was an assistant professor of physics at Lewis & Clark College. Clausen, a technology consultant, also had taught physics at Lewis & Clark and three other colleges, according to KTVZ.com.

Speed is considered a factor in the crash, state police said.

In another case, Nisley said the attorney for Garrett Jack Brennan, 25, who is accused of stabbing his grandmother Charlene Caldwell to death March 16 in The Dalles, has said they will present an evaluation to the court to determine whether Brennan lacks capacity to stand trial.

The standard is whether the defendant can assist in their own defense and make informed decisions, Nisley said.

The evaluation report is expected to be completed in four weeks, Nisley said.

“We may be asking for our own evaluation as well,” he said, which is fairly standard. Attorneys for Zoey Austin Pike, 21, accused of stabbing Nathan Preyapongpisan to death Jan. 26 in the 500 block of Liberty Street, are still investigating their case, Nisley said.

No pleas have been entered in any of the cases, according to the district attorney.

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