Travel agent arraigned on felony

Police say additional theft charges pending against Sue Collins

Charges and complaints against Cascade Travel owner Sue Collins, are mounting.

On Aug. 6, the Hood River travel agent appeared in Hood River Circuit Court before Judge Paul Crowley. District Attorney John Sewell charged her with one count of Theft I, a C-class felony.

Collins’ original arrest by Hood River Police Department Detective Don Cheli included four counts of Theft II — all misdemeanors.

According to Cheli, an upgrade to a felony status indicates that alleged victim losses now exceed $1,000. Collins’ next hearing on the D.A.’s charge is scheduled for Sept. 17.

“It would be inappropriate for me to comment on the case while charges are pending,” said Sewell when asked for comment.

When reached by phone and asked about the felony charge, Collins stated, “No comment.”

According to Cheli, after Collins’ original four charges of Theft II became public, 18 more individuals contacted him with stories of financial losses and travel plan disasters tied to Cascade Travel.

“I now have about 35 individuals who have filed reports against Collins,” said Cheli.

Of the newly received reports, Cheli stated that he will file five new criminal charges. According to several individuals who contacted the Hood River News directly and Cheli, Collins reportedly refunded alleged losses in the other filed complaints precluding criminal charges.

According to Cheli, when a victim takes financial compensation from an alleged misappropriation of funds, this can constitute a “civil compromise” which in most cases prevents criminal charges from being applicable.

The original charges against Collins were tied to a group of family travelers, from whom Collins allegedly took funds intended for travel insurance — which Collins then allegedly never purchased. Their reported losses came to $486.

The new charges are tied to losses incurred by Kay Ericksen of The Dalles, and a planned family vacation for her daughter Sarah Keller of Hood River, Sarah’s husband, Jason, and the Kellers’ two children.

The alleged cash theft equates to more than $3,300 in replacement tickets charges for the airline tickets that were to have been purchased as part of the family’s pre-paid package with Cascade Travel.

In a recent interview with Sarah Keller, she recounted their family’s Disneyland-dream-vacation-turned-to-nightmare, she confirmed that her mother incurred the cash losses for airline tickets never purchased by Collins. Their report formed the basis of the felony charge through the D.A.’s office.

“We had contacted Sue in December to inquire about a Disneyland package. My mom went in and paid the initial deposit. Our final payment of all fees was by Feb. 1. Our all-inclusive Disney package included roundtrip airfare on Alaska plus four nights at the Grand California Hotel, shuttles and park passes,” said Keller. The family received an itinerary — on Collins’ stationary — for their vacation dates March 5-9.

Keller reported that with 10 days before their scheduled departure, they hadn’t received any tickets, even though phone calls to Collins yielded multiple promises and extensive excuses.

By Feb. 28, the family was getting desperate.

“We call her in the morning and we say ‘This is ridiculous; we want proof that we have our package.’ Sue tells us she will bring everything later that day. She showed up at 4 p.m. — she had everything. The Alaska Airlines itinerary with confirmation numbers was printed on Cascade Travel stationary plus we had the Grand California Hotel, park passes and shuttle information.

“She didn’t apologize — it was just four days before — I started looking at the items; they were all booked in the same day. None of this was booked until Feb. 28.

“Stupidly — we didn’t check anything. We were just relieved to have our trip. On Sunday (March 4) we were around the house about 1 p.m. — leaving at 6 a.m. on Monday morning. Jason gets online to check in. The airline says we are unable to check in. He calls and he’s told we have no tickets.”

According to Keller, the airlines confirmed that tickets had been reserved, allowing a confirmation number to be issued, but the tickets were canceled by the airline due to non-payment by Collins.

With a last-minute scramble to make sure the children were not disappointed, the Kellers and Ericksen got on the line with Alaska Airlines, to buy last-minute tickets.

The Kellers then reported contacting Collins and allege that she continued to deny the tickets had never been purchased, blaming the airlines for the mix-up. With an Alaska Airlines supervisor on the other line, the Kellers report that they were able to verify and document Collins’ actions with the airlines.

The Kellers also report that during the scramble, Collins then tried to blame Sarah’s mother, Ericksen, for canceling the tickets.

“We had my mom on the other line, along with the Alaska supervisor — all confirming that what Sue was saying wasn’t true,” said Keller.

“This was not the package deal she sold us — it was never paid for. She never used deposit for our trip and she rebooked it at the last minute because the package was no longer available. She piece-mealed it, but she couldn’t get the airline tickets. We would have shown up to the airport with no tickets for our family.”

According to Sewell, on Aug. 6, Collins was booked and fingerprinted and is now on conditional release pending her next court date. Deputy District Attorney Katherine Krametbauer represented the D.A.’s office in the initial hearing. Collins has appointed attorney Brian Starns as her representative.

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Parkdale third graders sing "12 Disaster Days of Christmas"

Welcome to your sing-able Christmas gift list. What follows is an emergency rendition of “12 Days of Christmas” – for outfitting your home or car in case of snow storm, earthquake, flood or other emergency. Read it as a simple list, or sing it to the tune of “12 Days” – you know, as in “ … and a partridge in a pear tree…” Not to make light of it, but the song is a familiar framework for a set of gift ideas that you could consider gathering together, even if the recipient already owns items such as a bunch of coats, tire chains and flashlights. Stores throughout the Gorge are stocked up on all these items. Buying all 12 days might be prohibitive, but here are three ideas for checking any of the dozen off your list (notations follow, 1-12.) The gift items needed to stay warm, dry and safe are also coded to suggest items in your abode (A) in your car (C) or both (B). 12 Gallons of Water (A) 11 Family meals (B) 10 Cans of propane (A) 9 Hygiene bags (B) 8 Packs of batteries (A) 7 Spare coats (B) 6 Bright red flares (C) 5 Cozy blankets (B) 4 Tire chains (C) 3 Flashlights (B) 2 cell phone chargers (B) 1 And a crush-proof first aid kit (B) Price ranges? Here’s a few quotes for days Three, Two, Four and Nine: n A family gift of flashlights (three will run $15-30, Hood River Supply, Tum-A-Lum) n Cell phone chargers (two will run $30-60) n Tire chains (basic set, $30, Les Schwab, returnable if unused for the winter) n Family meals ($100 or so should cover the basics for three or four reasonably well-fed days) n The home kit should be kept in a handy place near an exit, and remember that water needs to be replenished every few months. If you have a solid first aid kit already, switch out the gift idea with “and-a-sto-o-u-t- tub-for it-all …” Otherwise, it’s a case of assembling your home or car kits and making sure all members of the family know what the resources are and how to use them (ie flares and propane). Emergency situations are at worst life-threatening, at best deeply uncomfortable if you and your family are left without power for an extended period, or traveling and find yourself in a situation where you need to wait out a storm, lengthy traffic delay, or other crisis. Notes on the 12 gift ideas: 12 – Gallons of water: that’s one per person in a four-member family to last for three days, the recommended minimum to be prepared for utility outages. 11 – Easy-open packaged goods, energy bars, dried food and nuts are good things to include for nutrition. Think of what your family of four needs for three days to stay fortified and hydrated (see number 12). Can-opener also recommended 10 – If you have a propane camping stove, keep extra fuel handy. 9 – Hygiene bags: put packaged moistened towelettes, toilet paper, and plastic ties in large garbage bags (for personal sanitation) Resource list courtesy of Hood River County Emergency Management, Barbara Ayers, manager/ 541-386-1213. The county also reminds residents to Get a Kit, Make A Plan to connect your family if separated, and Stay Informed. See to opt-in for citizen alerts. Enlarge

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