Roy L. Drago was appointed Sheriff of Morrow County in 1983, replacing Larry Fetsch, who resigned. Drago ran unopposed for Sheriff in 1984 and 1988. He is the 16th Sheriff in Morrow County, which was established in 1885.
Drago was born on Dec. 13, 1929 in New York. He moved to Oregon in 1947 and later was drafted into the U.S. Army. In 1954, he moved back to New York and worked for three years as a Police Officer for the Yonkers Police Department.
In 1957, Drago came back to Oregon, settling in the Coos Bay area. He worked for the Eastside Police Department for seven years before moving to Morrow County, where he was hired as a Deputy with the Morrow County Sheriff's Department, later becoming a patrol sergeant.
When Fetsch resigned in April 1983, Drago was appointed to take his place. The Morrow County Sheriff's Office patrols the 2,049 square miles in the northern Oregon county. Drago runs a department with 17 employees, including 10 Deputies.
Drago and his wife, Gail, have three children.
George W. Harrington was appointed to serve as the first Sheriff of Morrow County when it was carved from Umatilla County on Feb. 16, 1885. He served for a year and then came back nearly 10 years later to be elected to a two-year term.
The northern border of Morrow County stretches 35 miles along the Columbia River. The Umatilla River and the Blue Mountains lie about 60 miles to the south. The county covers 2,049 square miles and lists a population of some 8,000 residents. Heppner is the county seat.
The county was named for J. L. Morrow, an early resident of the area. Agriculture, food processing industries, utilities, timber, livestock and recreation are the main industries in Morrow County. The Port of Morrow serves as a gateway to Pacific Northwest and Pacific Rim markets.
More than one million acres of gentle rolling plains and broad plateaus offer rich agriculture land. Irrigation farming is popular to the north, vast wheat fields for cattle and sheep are seen in the center of the county while timber products are harvested to the south.
With the advent of center pivot irrigation technology, Morrow County has become one of Oregon's fastest-growing areas in terms of population, personal income and agriculture and industrial development.
There is plenty to do and see in Morrow County. Points of interest include the Columbia River Coal Fired Generating Plant, Blue Mountains and Umatilla National Forest. Hunting and fishing also are popular in Morrow County.
When the county was created, Harrington was selected to serve as its first Sheriff until a Sheriff could be elected in 1886. Thomas R. Howard won the 1886 and 1888 elections and was Sheriff for four years, with Harrington working for him as a Deputy.
Howard had served as Morrow County's first Assessor in 1885 before he ran for Sheriff.
In 1890, George Noble was elected to the first of two consecutive two-year terms. A native of Germany, Noble also had a role in the early government of Morrow County when he served as County Treasurer from 1886 to 1890. He was a member of the first Heppner City Council in 1887.
In 1894, Harrington was back, this time elected to a two-year term as Sheriff of Morrow County.
Edward L. Matlock was elected to a two-year term in 1896. He served until Arthur Andrews was elected in 1898 to a two-year term. James W. Matlock, who had served as a Deputy under his brother, Edward, followed Andrews as Sheriff when he was elected to a two year-term in 1900.
James Matlock died in 1903 in the devastating Heppner Flood that took the lives of nearly 300 people. (See story in this chapter.)
E. M. Shutt followed Matlock when he was elected in 1902 and ended up spending nine years as Sheriff of Morrow County -- the first time. He was back for another term from 1919 to 1921. Shutt was Sheriff during the flood, which has been called by some the state's worst disaster.
When he wasn't running county law enforcement, Shutt was a newspaperman who was editor of the Heppner Times at one time and, while living in Condon, ran the Antelope Herald. Shutt committed suicide in California in the mid 1930s.
Joseph C. Hayes followed Shutt as Sheriff of Morrow County, serving a two-year term from 1911 to 1913. He was followed by a one-term Sheriff, Marion Evans, who was the head of county law enforcement from 1913 to 1915.
In 1915, George McDuffee was elected to the first of two consecutive two-year terms he would serve as Morrow County Sheriff. McDuffee was back again, however, this time serving as Sheriff from 1921 to 1929 following Shutt's second term.
The man who served 40 years as Sheriff- including time off for military service -- was elected for the first time in 1929. Clarence John David Bauman was elected every four years through 1964, serving as Sheriff of Morrow County until 1969.
But Banman took some time off during World War II when he served as a Chief Petty Officer with the U. S. Navy and was replaced by two interim Sheriffs. John H. Fuiten filled in from March 1943 to April 1945, when P. A. Mollahan stepped in until Bauman's return in March 1946.
John F. Mollahan, son of P. A. Mollahan, was elected Sheriff of Morrow County in 1969, serving until September 1976, when he resigned. The younger Mollahan was born in Heppner and attended public schools there. He was in the U.S. Army from 1958 to 1960 and then went on later to become a patrolman for the Heppner Police Department from 1964 to 1968.
Larry Dean Fetsch, another Heppner native, was appointed to take John Mollahan's place and later was elected to the position, serving until April 1983, when he resigned and Drago was appointed Sheriff of the county.
Hell and High Water
Like most disasters, the devastating Heppner flood of 1903 struck suddenly with a flash of lighting and an ominous roar of thunder.
Most of the 1,500 residents of the Morrow County community were just sitting down to Sunday dinner that warm summer evening of June 14 when a dark, giant cloud drifted over the area. The sudden flash of lightning was the precursor of what was yet to come.
Within moments, a cloudburst a few miles above the town swelled the waters of three tributaries of Willow Creek, sending a wall of water estimated at 30 feet high and 200 feet wide rushing through the Heppner community. Townsfolk were caught totally by surprise.
In a matter of minutes, floodwaters ravaged the closely-knit community, ripping out dozens of houses, barns, buildings and churches. People caught in the middle of the flood had no time to prepare for the worst. Nearly 250 men, women and children instantly drowned. Even those lucky enough to make it to higher ground watched in horror as the turbulent floodwaters carried their houses, their families and friends away. Several bodies were later recovered five or six miles away from the town.
One of the fortunate ones to escape was young Leslie Matlock who quickly mounted a horse and rode full speed ahead of the rampaging waters to the little town of Lexington, nine miles northwest of Heppner, to warn residents to head for the hills. All of the town's 500 residents took his advice. By the time the flood passed, only two houses were still standing.
Matlock then telephoned residents of the town of Ione, next community in the path of the flood. Residents escaped to higher ground and there was relatively little damage to houses and buildings, due to the fact that most of the town was built on a wide flat.
Within about an hour, the flood had pretty much run its course. But the hellacious task was still ahead for Morrow County Sheriff E. M. Shutt and his men, as well as dozens of doctors, nurses and volunteers who hurried to Heppner to aid in rescue and cleanup efforts. They faced the grim task of locating and identifying bodies, many of which were battered beyond recognition.
Leslie Matlock may have survived, but several members of his extended family did not, including former Morrow County Sheriff James W. Matlock, who drowned in the flood. James Matlock, who had left office the year before, was just six days shy of his 61st birthday when he died.
Fortunately for Shutt and his men, the normal looting and thievery which generally accompany such disaster did not occur this time. Most of the store goods and valuables were washed away by the flood, anyway, and the floodwaters were so fierce they ripped the clothing off several victims.
A story in The Oregon Journal newspaper in 1963 -- commemorating the 60th anniversary of Oregon's worst natural disaster-- recalled that the unclothed body of Heppner postal clerk Anna McBride was found several blocks away, with her glasses still in place.
Because of the shortage of ice and embalming fluids, most of the corpses had to be buried immediately, before relatives could even be notified. Several battered bodies went to the grave unidentified.
An estimate of property damage caused by the Heppner flood totalled $350,000. It took several years for the town to recover from its devastating loss, and some old-timers still insist it never has and never will fully recover.
The Bungled Bank Heist
John W. Krebs thought he knew all the ins and outs of the banking business when he held up the Ione Branch of the Bank of Eastern Oregon on May 29, 1985 - almost two years to the day he robbed the same bank. After all, Krebs' grandfather founded the bank many years earlier.
But Krebs' luck wasn't any better the second time around.
On June 9, 1983, Krebs held up the Ione branch of the Bank of Eastern Oregon, making off with $17,000 in the process. But he didn't have long to enjoy his illicit earnings. He was captured a short time after the robbery, convicted and sentenced to the Oregon State Penitentiary. He was serving his robbery sentence at the Salem prison when he and another inmate, Richard Glenn McCawley, escaped May 19, 1985.
Rather than fleeing the state and going into hiding, Krebs talked McCawley into returning with him to the scene of his earlier crime -- Ione. Or more specifically, the Ione Branch of the Bank of Eastern Oregon. Ten days after their escape from prison, Krebs and McCawley robbed the bank in broad daylight -- in plain view of at least two witnesses who provided the Morrow County Sheriff's Office with a blow-by-blow account of the blown bank robbery.
The owner of a small market located across the street from the bank called for help after he saw two men walking down an alley between a hardware store and the bank. He noticed they were having trouble putting on their masks -- putting them on and taking them off several times before they approached the bank.
Another man working at a service station said he saw one of the suspects, possibly Krebs, walk into the bank and start waving a gun around. He was followed a few minutes later by the second masked robber. The service station employee said he saw the men drive out of town after leaving the bank and provided clear directions on their getaway route to Sheriff's Deputies.
Two Morrow County Sheriff's Deputies found the getaway car abandoned outside of Ione. Moments later, Sheriff Roy Drago, on his first day back from vacation, spotted Krebs and McCawley heading north on Ella Road in a white 1966 Plymouth. Drago pursued the speeding car and stopped it a short time later. But when the driver attempted to run him down as he got out of his patrol car, Drago fired a shot at the vehicle. No one was hit.
The suspect vehicle continued north at a high rate of speed. A second Morrow County patrol car joined the chase. As the vehicle approached the intersection of Juniper Canyon Road and Bombing Range Road, an Oregon State Police trooper pulled his patrol car into the path of the fleeing vehicle and successfully blocked the intersection.
Krebs and McCawley, and two women in the car with them, surrendered without incident. Deputies also found an 18-day old baby belonging to one of the women in the car, along with the $19,000 in bank receipts and a gun used in the bank robbery.
The Morrow County Grand Jury indicted Krebs and McCawley on charges of first-degree robbery, first-degree burglary, unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, first-degree attempted assault, assaulting a public safety officer, ex-convict in possession of a firearm and possession of a firearm by an inmate of a penal institution.
McCawley, through a plea-bargaining agreement with the Morrow County District Attorney's Office, agreed to plead guilty to charges of first-degree robbery and unlawful use of a motor vehicle. He was sentenced to jail and has since been released.
Krebs was given a 20-year prison sentence and is still serving his term. On the way to the Oregon State Penitentiary, Krebs attempted to escape from the Sheriff's car and was given an additional five years.
The women who were in the car with Krebs and McCawley were all charged with burglaries in Arlington and released.
Ironically, Drago had just begun settling into his job as sheriff in 1983 when Krebs hit the bank the first time.
Return to "A History of Oregon Sheriffs Index"
Return to "A Place Called Oregon"