The buzz in the Bend blogosphere about suicides among local developers has gotten loud enough for The Oregonian to devote a lengthy story to the topic Saturday.
"As mortgage defaults in Deschutes County soared to levels more often seen in the cratering markets of California, Arizona and Florida, a handful of bloggers raged at the greed that had spoiled their desert paradise, leaving it broke and broken," began the story by reporter Anne Saker.
"Then three Bend developers died this summer, and the bloggers soon spun theories about what would drive men to such desperate measures. Or maybe, the bloggers wondered, the mob was involved. The city at the foot of Mount Bachelor had a bad case of the jitters."
The story focused on the rival BendBubble2 and BendBubble3 blogs, where anonymous posters have speculated that the deaths of three developers - Douglas Sokol, Lynn McDonald and Jay Audia - were suicides or maybe even "bank-ordered mob hits."
Only one of the three deaths - that of Audia, who shot himself on July 19 - is a confirmed suicide. McDonald, a longtime Bend physician who had invested heavily in The Shire, disappeared July 6 and his body was found the next day in the Deschutes River below Benham Falls. Sokol, of Sisters, died in a fall in June. And Deschutes County Medical Examiner Dr. Chris Hatlestad told The Oregonian there was no evidence of foul play in any of the cases.
How much of a role the real estate bust played in the suicides of the three men - assuming they were suicides - is hard to pin down.
"Studies as long ago as 1987 and as recent as the mid-1990s show that suicides do increase in troubled economic times," The Oregonian wrote. However, "Having a suddenly thinner wallet by itself does not drain the last of someone's hope. Other factors working alone or in combination - alcohol and drug abuse, legal trouble, divorce and mental illness among them - usually drive suicides."
"In Bend, even with the tough times, the medical examiner said he has not seen an uptick in suicides in Deschutes County," the story continued. "In fact, Lt. Kevin Dizney, head of the sheriff's detective division, said that aside from metal thefts, 'I haven't seen the state of the economy having any direct effect on crime, period.'"
The Eye has mixed feelings about the value of blogs like BendBubble2. They sometimes publish important information that the mainstream media can't (or won't) touch. For instance, BendBubble2 was predicting the bursting of the Bend real estate bubble long before The Bulletin woke up to the fact that it wouldn't go on forever.
But blogs give any anonymous loony with Internet access the chance to spew toxic rumors that are hurtful to the people they target and their families - and the victims have no way of fighting back under present libel law.
Meanwhile, after threatening a week ago to drop out of the blogging game, "I Hate to Burst Your Bubble" is back this Sunday at BendBubble2, and in his usual form:
"Just so you know, Portlandians, this f##king town is Bank-Mob Run. These f##kers killed themselves for reasons probably VERY SIMILAR to why that Buena Vista contractor was arrested: This ain't CIVIL anymore. Ain't a misdemeanor to lose money around here anymore, it's CRIMINAL. Your ass will SERVE TIME. Either that, or they will find you & shoot you. Or throw you over Benham Falls."