Steve Duin: The curious disappearance of Wayne Faulk
As the snow piled up last week and Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler begged us to be vigilant about our most vulnerable neighbors, people began calling me about Wayne Faulk.
He is a gentle 72-year-old, ferociously attached to the 40-acre Oregon City farm where he has lived most of his life. In the years since his parents died, he has made almost daily two-mile walks from that farm to the Redland Store, often picking up cans so he can afford soda pop or a packet of lunchmeat.
But after Kenneth Stewart, a Clackamas County circuit judge pro tem, assigned him a limited guardian and conservator in October, Faulk vanished from that daily routine.
Because Faulk has for years expressed so much anxiety about leaving the farm, many of his friends and neighbors were frantic.
When someone spotted him at the Best Western Rivershore Hotel in Oregon City, 10 people showed up just before Thanksgiving, hoping to talk to Faulk and his caregivers.
That didn’t sit well with Ann Yela, the new guardian.
When Bob Norton later asked Yela if his family could host Faulk at their home for Christmas dinner, he said, “We were told, ‘Oh, no, we can’t do that. For his safety.’
“The secrecy and hostility is the first red flag,” says Norton, who works for Clackamas Fire District No. 1. “If everything is on the up-and-up, why wouldn’t they allow folks to see him and visit him? Why are we seen as a threat?”
Looking for answers, the Redland community called me. They called me because I wrote about Yela’s firm, Farley Piazza LLC, five years ago in the horrendous case involving a veteran named Ben Alfano.
They called me because they received little help from Yela or anyone with the county.
It took most of a snow-bound week to track Faulk down at Deerfield Village, an assisted-living center in Milwaukie.
The visit was made possible by attorney Eric Kearney, Faulk’s court-appointed advocate in fighting to maintain his independence.
On Wednesday afternoon, Wayne said he is miserable living in his lonely room at the end of the hall.
“I don’t like a place like this, where you do nothing but watch TV,” Faulk says. “Just because I’m 72, I shouldn’t be stuck here. I want to be home on the farm. I’d like to be out working. Since 1954, I’ve been raking leaves on the place.”
Faulk is developmentally disabled, and too often influenced by the loudest voice in his ear. When his mother died in 1999, his father set up a trust to ensure that Wayne could live out his life on the South Potter Road farm.
Since 2012, Wayne’s sister-in-law, Linda, has served as trustee over those funds, even managing the $1,900 Wayne receives each month from Social Security and his late father’s worker’s compensation benefits.
Wayne often complained to the neighbors that far too little of that money ever arrived to fund his purchases at the Redland Store or keep the farm in good repair.
Two of those neighbors are Jack Dunn and Rosemarie Henley. After Wayne gave them power of attorney, and they assumed control of his disability payments, Linda Faulk petitioned the court to saddle Wayne with a guardian and conservator.
Kearney doesn’t believe Wayne needs a guardian. Neither does Marcie Ingledue, executive director of The ARC Oregon, a Salem non-profit that works with the elderly and the disabled.
“After meeting with him,” Ingledue told me, “we felt he could definitely live independently with the proper support in place.”
In October, the court reached a different conclusion. But Stewart also mandated that Yela could not move Wayne off the farm without the court’s approval, barring a medical emergency.
The judge also ordered the guardian to “facilitate contact with Wayne Faulk, his family, and members of his community.”
Through her attorney, Yela promptly filed restraining orders against Henley and Dunn, who were providing many of his meals. Those protective orders have not yet been served.
As Wayne’s attorney argued in court, “A move from his home would be devastating to the health and well-being of Mr. Faulk.” Yet after Wayne needed a brief hospital stay for a leg injury, Yela moved him off the farm.
When Sandy Ortega, Bridget Probst and other Redland neighbors could find nothing in the court file approving that move, they sent out a search party looking for the man who had, on numerous occasions, begged them for help.
When I called Yela, she said she had no comment. She eventually informed the court that the farm requires repairs to ensure Wayne’s safety.
“It’s my job to be skeptical of everyone who is not my client,” Kearney says, but he believes Yela is “making good faith efforts to get Wayne back into that house.”
For now, he’s still parked at Deerfield Village. On Tuesday, a caregiver brought Wayne back to the Redland Cafe for the first time in two months. Bob Norton and other community members rushed to see him.
“I’m a famous man,” Wayne tells me.
That’s true. He hasn’t been cruelly abandoned, like so many of the elderly. But it’s a cruel irony that those who care for him, and those who are paid to guard over him, can’t find a way to work together to comfort the man.