Family tackles mental illness together

East Oregonian, August 12, 2016

Two months ago, Vanessa Logman’s mind jumped the tracks.

The Pendleton woman has bipolar disorder. Until everything blew up on that day in June, Vanessa (with the help of doctors) had controlled her symptoms with medications. Dan Logman describes his wife as a private person and a kind and loving mother to their four young sons. Except for running a stop sign four years ago, he said, she had never run afoul of the law.

Then, on June 4, she cut a man’s throat.

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The first indication that Vanessa was in trouble came a couple of days earlier.

“I knew something was wrong,” she said. “Things were not clear. There were gaps in time.”

On June 3, she awoke in the wee hours of the morning certain that someone had broken into the family’s apartment and was under the bed. Frightened, she dialed 9-1-1 as her husband slept, then shook Dan awake.

“She woke me up and told me to get dressed and that the police needed to search the apartment,” Dan recalled.

Dan, 44, said he and the police officers realized by her unstable behavior that his 31-year-old wife was having delusions. When the officers left, Vanessa pleaded with Dan to believe her.

“When you have a delusion, you totally believe it,” she said recently. “I was mad at him.”

Dan, who was familiar with bipolar mood swings, hadn’t witnessed his wife of nine years in such a state, but was confident of handling the crisis and getting back to safe psychological ground. Dan and his mother-in-law convinced Vanessa to go to the Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center the next morning to try and get a counseling appointment, and she agreed to go. Vanessa texted him from the clinic waiting room about 10 a.m. Later, he learned she hadn’t been able to schedule an appointment until June 15.

“She went back home and spent the day there,” Dan said. “When I got back from work at 5, I found dinner prepared and the Slip ’N Slide and shoes and shirts all over the yard.”

Vanessa and the boys, though, had vanished. Bethel Assembly of God pastor Tim Van Cleave, who lives nearby and is the Logmans’ minister, told Dan that he had seen Cam’ron, 11, Christopher, 10, and 5-year-old twins Craig and Curtis in the yard playing earlier in the afternoon. Dan called Yellowhawk, but got the clinic’s after-hours service, and then called the Pendleton Police Department, which put out a description of the family’s white Windstar van. Dan, along with dozens of family and friends, looked for Vanessa and exchanged a flurry of texts to no avail.

Later, he learned that Vanessa had found herself in the grip of another delusion.

“In her mind, she had gotten a message from her mom to go to Indian Lake,” Dan said. “She grabbed the kids and headed up.”

Her mom, Valarie Smith, who works nights at Wildhorse Resort & Casino and was asleep, hadn’t sent a message, but Vanessa was convinced. She headed to the lake with no food, no water, no camping gear and an almost empty gas tank.

“She ended up spending the night with the kids,” Dan said. “She progressed into a more full-on delusional state which kicked into full paranoia. She thought she was being chased and needed to get away.”

Vanessa was out of gas so Saturday morning around 10 a.m., she and the boys began walking the 20 miles to Pilot Rock despite temperatures around 90 degrees and having no water. After walking about two miles, she waved down Bill Porter and his ex-wife, Brenda Porter, who were traveling in a silver Dodge pickup on East Birch Creek Road. Bill stopped and agreed to give Vanessa and the boys a ride. They scrambled into the back seat.

The next thing the good Samaritans knew, according to police reports, Vanessa had pulled a knife from her purse, grabbed Bill’s shoulder and sliced into his throat. The Hermiston man stopped and he and Brenda pulled Vanessa from the truck. They wrestled the knife from her hand. A passerby helped subdue the woman and secure her hands behind her back with a belt. Umatilla County Sheriff’s deputies and Oregon State Police troopers arrived, arrested Vanessa and booked her into the Umatilla County Jail on charges of attempted murder, assault in the second degree and two counts of unlawful use of a weapon.

Bill Porter’s wound required 11 stitches. Brenda Porter had minor injuries.

About 2 p.m., Dan’s mother-in-law called him to let him know she had the boys. Not knowing any of the details, he rushed to them.

“I was informed by my 5-year-olds about what had happened,” he said. “That’s something I’ll never forget.”

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Peter Davidson saw plenty of bipolar disorder as medical director of the Blue Mountain Recovery Center, a state mental hospital in Pendleton that closed March 31, 2014, Davidson said violence is not uncommon among people with bipolar disorder, though when properly medicated, they are more likely to be victims than perpetrators.

“In my world, it’s not unusual at all,” said Davidson, now a consultant to Greater Oregon Behavioral Health Inc.

Delusional thinking can have other fallout as well. Bipolar individuals have told him they were God. Others have fallen to their deaths while thinking they could fly. One woman with bipolar disorder left her baby on the side of Interstate 5. Medication is a critical and effective way of leveling out mood, he said, though people with bipolar disorder have a difficult choice. They can avoid the manic highs and lows or get stuck in a even-keel, but lackluster, existence.

“Life gets dull. They miss the manic highs,” he said. “All of the medications are poisons in one form or another. They stop neurotransmitters from cycling. All have side effects that people hate.”

Looking back, Vanessa and Dan suspect that attempts to balance different mood-stabilizing medications in recent months might have pushed Vanessa over the edge, but they will probably never know for sure. Lithium, another mood stabilizer, is currently the main drug in her arsenal.

“They try out different things to see what will work. What works for one person might not work for the next,” he said. “It’s a tricky game.”

Vanessa saw her psychiatrist from afar. Yellowhawk has an agreement with the Oregon Health & Science University to provide psychiatric care via video feed. Vanessa had seen a different psychiatrist in the past year who had been reevaluating her treatment.

Yellowhawk CEO Tim Gilbert said patients with serious psychiatric issues are generally supported by a tripod of caregivers – a behavioral health counselor and primary care doctor (onsite) and a telepsychiatrist at OHSU.

“That’s a system we arrived at out of need and for the most part it works,” Gilbert said. “In Eastern Oregon, we’ve got to be creative to get that high level of care. It comes with caveats. It doesn’t work one hundred percent of the time.”

Vanessa’s June 3 attempt to get an appointment might have been one of those times it didn’t work. She believes her mental health crisis might have been averted had she been able to meet with a counselor the day before the attack. It’s a moot point now, though, as she is on trial for a serious crime.

In Dan’s mind, love will conquer even this devastating blow to his family.

“There’s so much love in our house. We focus on that,” he said. “You can dwell in the negative, but there’s been so much positive out of this bad situation. My faith in God has been strengthened.”

Case in point, he said, was Vanessa’s bail hearing. Around 45 friends, family and fellow members of the Bethel Baptist Church showed up en masse to support Vanessa. Some drove from as far as Portland and the Tri-Cities.

“We had the courtroom packed out,” said Van Cleave, who testified to Vanessa’s character. “There was a lot of support for her. It was amazing.”

The pastor said he was floored when he originally got wind of the attack.

“When I heard about it, I was totally shocked,” he said. “It was totally out of character for her.”

Dan raised the $5,000 bail by the next day. Vanessa was soon free.

“Now we can walk into the courtroom together with dignity, not by video with her in an orange jumpsuit,” Dan said. “We are able to face this together as a family.”

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The Logmans think about Bill Porter every day, and are thankful he stopped to pick up Vanessa and the kids.

“We want to thank him for what he did. I hope he can see that his act saved our family,” Dan said. “His act of kindness brought this to an end. We don’t know what would have happened if he hadn’t stopped and we’ll never have to know.”

On such a hot day with no water, the story could have ended quite differently, he said.

“We’re sorry he was injured and grateful that he’s OK,” Dan said. “I see him as a hero because he saved lives that day, truly.”

The Porters are withholding comment for now, until the case makes its way through court.

Since she got out of jail, Vanessa said, she has spent time in psychiatric care. She has initiated a healthier routine. She and Dan lift weights and do cardio at Club 24 in Pendleton. Dan keeps four ledgers — one each for medications, exercise, sleep and diet.

“We go to the gym every day at the same time,” she said. “I take medications every day at the same time. Routine is important. Even little things can throw me off.”

They worry about how their four sons will cope with recent events, but are staying positive. The boys are in counseling and the family is close-knit.

“We are probably the most loving family I’ve ever been around,” he said. “We’re not shy on hugs. Our kids hear ‘I love you’ probably 50 times a day.”

Pendleton attorney Michael Breiling represents Vanessa. Her next pre-trial hearing is scheduled for Sept. 12.