South Fork Forest Camp entrance in November 2017. Photo: Chas Hundley

TILLAMOOK STATE FOREST - Brandon Sykes walked away from a South Fork Forest Camp work crew late Monday morning near the Coast Range summit on Highway 6, and has yet to be apprehended. 

“Unfortunately, we do not have an update on Mr. Sykes whereabouts,” said Betty Bernt, a spokesperson for the Oregon Department of Corrections.

The formerly incarcerated Sykes was housed at the South Fork Forest Camp in the Tillamook State Forest, a minimum-security facility jointly operated by the Oregon Department of Corrections and the Oregon Department of Forestry. 

The facility routinely sends inmate work crews on a variety of tasks, such as fighting forest fires in the region, and working on forestry projects. 

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After a November 12, 2019 crash, South Fork Forest Camp inmate crews moved lumber off the highway to get traffic moving again after a commercial vehicle hauling lumber overturned at the summit on Highway 6. 

It’s not the first time law enforcement officers have had to comb the forest for Mr. Sykes. 

According to Columbia County Sheriff’s Office records, an arrest warrant for Sykes, now 35, was issued in 2015 for assault and kidnapping, among other charges. But when Scappoose Police tried to arrest Sykes, a two day manhunt began that involved at least seven law enforcement agencies from at least three counties and the U.S. Marshall’s Service, according to the Columbia County Spotlight.

Talking to that newspaper, then-Columbia County Sheriff Jeff Dickerson is quoted thusly: 

“This was a pretty serious case. The guy had been arrested before for this kind of thing. We don't want him to get back in touch with these victims. We just didn't want him out running around.”

Sykes was eventually captured in Scappoose on the strength of a timely tip from an informant, and with the assistance of a K9.

According to Columbia County’s The Chronicle, Sykes was also arrested in 2005 on assault, burglary and kidnapping charges and spent time in prison.

Described as a white male, Sykes is 5'9", weighs 195 pounds, and has green eyes and brown hair.

Sykes left the work crew wearing blue jeans with the word "inmate" stenciled in orange on the knee, a blue t-shirt, sweatshirt, a coat also stenciled with "inmate."

The Department of Corrections is seeking public help in locating Sykes, and encourages anyone with information regarding his location to call the Oregon State Police at 1-800-452-7888 or the Washington County non-emergency line at 503-629-0111, or the Oregon Department of Corrections Fugitive Apprehension Unit at 503-569-0734.

Inmates must meet a series of requirements to be eligible to be incarcerated at the 28-acre South Fork Forest Camp, including not having any arson crimes or arrests, sex offenses, animal abuse crimes, violent “person to person crimes where there may be victim issues,” (defined in an email to this newspaper as “an immediate threat to a victim of someone’s crime,” according to Bernt) and no escape history, among other requirements.

“An individual’s entire criminal history is reviewed and assessed for risk. Decisions are made depending on severity and circumstance,” said Bernt in an email to the Banks Post & Gales Creek Journal.

According to the Bernt, the agency follows the Oregon Administrative Rule on assessment, assignment, and supervision of inmates for work assignments and unfenced minimum housing

According to the Oregon Department of Corrections, South Fork Forest Camp, established in 1951 as a joint venture between the Oregon Department of Forestry and the Oregon Department of Corrections, the facility houses up to 204 incarcerated adults and has a staff of 24. Those who reside there must apply for the program, which sees inmates perform a variety of tasks, usually related to forestry. 

Crews from South Fork are often sent to assist at wildfires in the Tillamook State Forest, and supply labor in replanting efforts, sign building (the sign at the entrance to the Forest Grove Oregon Department of Forestry offices was built by South Fork crews), metal fabrication and tool and equipment repair. The facility is largely self-sustaining in many ways, with a gas station, religious facilities, a small fish hatchery, and auto repair shop. 

Crews also work on campgrounds, trails and trailheads and day use areas throughout the NW Oregon area.