PENDLETON, Ore. – It was a beautiful spring Saturday. Gail Gorbett Wilson said she was home alone and had just finished a bowl of soup, when a naked man came to call. Needless to say, Steven Shane Burton, 30, of Hermiston, was not an expected guest. Wilson had never seen him before in her life.
“He opened up his arms and said, ‘Hi, honey,’ ” she said. “He came directly towards me with his arms wide open and proceeded to give me a hug. I waited until he got close enough so I could shove him away.”
The former corrections officer said that Burton was obviously high, and kept muttering unintelligibly. Physically limited, Wilson was in her lift chair at the time, and the unwanted visitor chose to sit on her motorized scooter.
“My dad’s voice was in my head, telling me, ‘Keep calm. Remember your training,’ ” she said. “The correctional officer training kind of kicked in and I just spoke to him as if I was on a unit with the inmates and he responded. I didn’t make conversation with him, didn’t make eye contact. I just kept him in my peripheral.”
Wilson said she doesn’t think the man even noticed that she had dialed 911. He locked her dog, Hunter, in an office and roamed around the home. He tried to hug her again, and again she shoved him away. He sat back down. Then things changed.
“Dispatch asked me to ask him his name, which I knew was not something I should be doing,” she said.
She followed the instruction, though, and asked.
“He started getting agitated and, pretty quick, he jumps up and out the door he went,” she said.
She watched him as he went into the yard. That’s when she says Burton heard police sirens and took off running. He scaled a cyclone fence, and then fell down a cliff above the Umatilla River. Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts says Burton didn’t hit the bottom, though.
“Burton was hanging upside down from a tree by his ankle,” Roberts said. “During this time he was aggressive, non-cooperative. At one point, he even tried to pull the handgun from one of the assistant deputy’s holster.”
Because of the man’s precarious position, it took over three hours for officers and emergency respondents to get Burton out of the tree and back up the cliff.
“They had search and rescue and everything here,” Wilson said. “It’s a real steep drop-off and it’s just full of all that brush. They had a real hard time finding a place where they could actually get down to him.”
Roberts said that in addition to Umatilla County Search and Rescue, Pendleton Fire, Umatilla Tribal Police, and Oregon State Police also gave mutual aid in what ended up being a long and expensive operation.
“It’s probably one of the more bizarre things that I’ve heard of in my time in law enforcement,” Roberts said. “It’s probably fairly fortunate for both Burton and law enforcement that he got hung up in the tree.”
Burton was taken to St. Anthony Hospital and then booked in Umatilla County Jail on numerous charges. Meanwhile, Gail Wilson says she’s doing fine after the shock.
“If he was going to do it, I’m glad he chose here instead of some place where some young girl was,” she said. “I’m just sorry my pistol was in by my bed instead of here by my chair. But, in a way, I’m glad it was, because if I had pulled my gun, I don’t think he would have stopped. I would have had to shoot him, so I’m glad I didn’t have to do that, but I would have, if I had to.”