Man charged with murder in Pendleton attacks

Lukah Chang after his arrest Wednesday.

Lukah Chang after his arrest Wednesday. East Oregonian photo by E.J. Harris

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Lukah Pobzeb Chang is his real name, and he faces charges of murder, attempted murder and first-degree assault.

Chang, formerly known to Pendleton police as Danny Wu, was the man they were hunting in connection to a pair of violent crimes in Pendleton almost a year apart: the Aug. 14, 2012 murder of 19-year-old Amyjane Brandhagen and the Aug. 9 assault on 53-year-old Karen Lange.

Police caught Chang at about 8:15 p.m. Wednesday at the Pendleton Convention Center after catering company employees spotted him and called 9-1-1. He is now in the Umatilla County Jail on $10 million bail.

Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts was coaching youth football Wednesday evening when he got the call the department’s most wanted man could be at the convention center at 1601 Westgate. The chief rushed to the scene in his T-shirt and shorts. He still wore them Thursday morning, having gone more than 24 hours without sleep.

Roberts said Chang’s attitude was calm and collected during a post-arrest interview, just as it was when police talked to him in the past year for trespassing or other minor infractions. Investigators asked for his real name, and he said it was Chang, Roberts said. Police pressed for more and got more.

According to the probable cause affidavit for Chang’s arrest, he “revealed information about the crimes that had not been made public and could not have been known without having committed the acts, having witnessed the acts or having conducted a full investigation of the acts.”

Chang also told police he is from Morganton, N.C., a city about the same size as Pendleton, and he deserted from the Marine Corps Base at Camp Pendleton, Calif. Chang said he took a Greyhound bus north last summer and stopped in Pendleton because he ran out of money, Roberts said.

Police called Naval Criminal Investigative Service to confirm Chang’s claims.

“Everything he told us appeared on documents we received from NCIS,” Roberts said. According to Marine spokesman Capt. Eric Flanagan at the Pentagon, Chang entered service May 2008 in Charlotte, N.C., and deserted July 9, 2012. Chang was a corporal and never served overseas.

Police also got a search warrant to take DNA from Chang, and rushed the swabs to the Oregon State Police crime lab. That “primary DNA” is a key piece police are looking for to solidify Chang as the person who killed Brandhagen and beat Lange with a pipe.

Chang confirmed his identity in court Thursday afternoon during arraignment on the initial charges. He appeared via video from the jail before Circuit Court Judge Christopher Brauer at the Umatilla County Courthouse, Pendleton. Umatilla County District Attorney Dan Primus charged Chang with murder for the slaying of Brandhagen and with attempted murder and first-degree assault for the attack on Lange. Primus also charged Chang with trespassing, a misdemeanor.

There is no record of prior arrests for violent crimes, Roberts said, which is why his fingerprints and DNA were not in law enforcement databases.

Public defender L. Kent Fisher of Pendleton represented Chang at the hearing and entered not guilty pleas to all counts. Brauer then set Chang’s bail at $10,000 in the trespass case and $10 million in the violent crimes case.

Primus said after the hearing that he would present evidence regarding the case to a grand jury Tuesday.

Convention center hiding place

Roberts credited Sally Dumont and Danielle Swanson for making all of this possible. They saw Chang in a chair in the kitchen at the Pendleton Convention Center. Swanson ran for help while and Dumont called 9-1-1 at 5:45 p.m. Dispatchers sent out the report and police arrived moments later.

Pendleton police officers, Umatilla County sheriff’s deputies and Oregon State Police troopers set up a perimeter around the center, and teams of police armed with assault gear searched the 26,000-square-foot building inside and out, including the roof.

Officers heard what sounded like someone on the second level of the three-level building, Roberts said. Police waited more for backup, Roberts said, “bolstering the number of law enforcement personnel surrounding the building.”

Officers prepared to enter the center shortly after 8 p.m. with a Umatilla County Sheriff’s Office police dog when an Oregon State Trooper on a perimeter saw a leg hanging down from the second floor ceiling.

“The dog and police rapidly descended on the location,” Roberts said, where they found Chang hiding in a 2x10-foot ceiling area alongside ductwork.

Police took Chang into custody at 8:17 p.m. without incident, Roberts said. Chang told investigators he had been hiding in the ceiling for about a week. Less than two weeks ago, on August 19, about 250 people gathered in the same convention center to talk about safety in the community and, specifically, finding the person or people who attacked Lange and Brandhagen.

Pat Kennedy is the long-time manager of the convention center and knows the building better than just about anyone. He said in recent months the center’s alarms went off on occasion, but that wasn’t uncommon. Cats and opossums have set off the alarms at the center, he said.

“So when we were getting these alarms in various places, we weren’t overly concerned because whenever we would check, there was no one there,” Kennedy said.

But staff reported peculiar sightings of what Kennedy called a “shadowy” figure at the center. Someone would glimpse a person, and staff would look but not find anyone, Kennedy said.

The sightings, plus minor vandalism in the center and theft of food from the kitchen, prompted Kennedy to install a new camera system to see who might be sneaking around. The system isn’t fully operational. He also said he figured a former employee would be the culprit. When Kathy Marshall, the center’s secretary, called Kennedy and said “we got him,” he was sure she meant the sneak-thief. He was shocked to find out who she meant.

“It was scary to think the guy was living right under your nose,” Kennedy said.

Police spotted Chang near the Round-Up Grounds and convention center before the assault on Lange, Roberts said, so it’s not unreasonable to think he had been testing security systems prior to the attack.

Roberts and others said it was stunning Chang remained in town after the assault. And it’s possible Chang was just yards away from Roberts, other police and about 250 people during the town hall meeting of Aug. 19. The subject was public safety, and Roberts first revealed a DNA connection between the Brandhagen and Lange cases at that meeting.

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