Hearing held in environmental case

Bail is set at $550,000 for Nicholas E. Lebeck in the first environmental crimes case to be prosecuted under a 1993 law.

By Rick Bella of the Oregonian staff Tuesday, November 22, 1994

If you believe Multnomah County prosecutors, Nicholas E. Lebeck continually eluded police to escape the states first felony prosecution under Oregon's 1993 environmental crimes law.

But if you believe his defense attorney, Lebeck has undergone a change of heart and is ready to face charges that he illegally disposed of and abandonded 223,800 pounds of hazardous chemicals at his South-east Portland metal-plating shop.

After hearing the conflicting accounts at a hearing Monday, Circuit Judge Philip T. Abraham asked the sheriff's office to interview Lebeck and determine whether he would qualify for close-street supervision until his trial. Abraham set another hearing for Dec. 5.

Meanwhile, Lebeck will remain in custody at the Justice Center jail. Bail was set at $550,000.

Lebeck, 40, has been charged with 10 counts of illegal waste disposal and one count of theft. All of the charges are Class B felonies.

Lebeck's wife, Sharon, also was charged in a Multnomah County grand jury indictment but remained a fugitive Monday, her whereabouts unknown.

Authorities allege that the Lebecks suddenly closed their Sellwood-area business, Rose city planting, in July without warning. They allegedly left behind 24,000 gallons of acids, solvents and other caustic substances at the shop at 7884 S.E. 13th Ave., in Sellwood's Antique Row.

Some of the barrels were leaking. Cyanide allegedly was left on top of a barrel of acid.

"If that had fallen in, it could have released a lethal cloud," said John Bradley, the deputy district attorney prosecuting the case.

Bradley said invesigators later realized creditors were foreclosing on the business and that Lebeck's home had already been seized. When Oregon State Police located him in an apartment south of Wilsonville, they obtained an arrest warrant. But when troopers returned, Lebeck already had escaped by squirming through a crawl space under six apartments before popping out an air vent.

Bradley said state troopers and Clackamas County sheriff's deputies later found Lebeck again, but he escaped by driving through cornfields after a 100-mph chase.

Lebeck reportedly turned himself in to authorities on Nov. 15 after flying to Portland from Los Angeles under an assumed name. Bradley said he believe Sharon Lebeck remained in California and may be trying to engineer an escape if her husband is released pending trial.

Bradley said he would seek a prison term, a fine and restitution if Lebeck is convicted.

However, Lebeck's attorney, Thomas J. Hester, said his client easily could have fled to Mexico from Los Angeles and instead turned himself in to clear up the charges. He denied any suggestion that Lebeck's wife was masterminding a plan to escape.

Hester said Lebeck had no prior criminal record and did nothing different at hs plating shop than other plating businesses.

He said the Sellwood site already was contaminated by previous businesses and that Lebeck was forced to clean up before he even moved in.

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