Accused MAX ring thief was once a Portland hero

Police honored George Tschaggeny with a civilian medal in 2010 for stopping a bank robber

George Tschaggeny, 51, in a June 2 booking photo, was caught on video carrying Best's black backpack off of the MAX train. (MCSO/PPB)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — The man accused of stealing the wedding ring from a dead man’s finger, a crime police called “heartless and unconscionable,” was once considered a hero in the community.

George Tschaggeny was arrested on June 2 after TriMet security images showed him walking away from the scene where Ricky Best,Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche and Micah Fletcher were stabbed. He is accused of stealing Best’s backpack and ring and detectives believe he stole the ring off Best’s finger.

Tschaggeny, 51, is homeless and, according to the Domino’s manager who told police where to find him, he regularly went to the Domino’s asking for food.

Right now, he’s in jail on $100,000 bail facing charges of identity theft, 2nd-degree abuse of a corpse, 1st-degree theft and tampering with physical evidence.

George Elwood Tschaggeny was awarded a Civilian Medal of Freedom by Portland Police in 2010. (Courtesy of PPB)
George Elwood Tschaggeny was awarded a Civilian Medal of Freedom by Portland Police in 2010. (Courtesy of PPB)

That’s his life in 2017, but in 2010 Portland police awarded Tschaggeny with a Civilian Medal of Heroism after he helped capture an armed bank robbery suspect.

His sister Camille Tschaggeny said her brother, who went by his middle name, Elwood, was “infinitely compassionate. Very funny, very bright. Willing to lend a hand.”

Police said Tschaggeny and another man were in his front yard when they saw the suspect running from police. They chased him and held him down until police arrived to find he had been holding a knife the entire time. Police called their actions “courageous and selfless.”

“He’s the guy you want in your neighborhood,” Camille said. “He’s the guy you want in your community.”

He was a loving husband and liked to spend time outside being active, cycling, walking and hiking. His life took a turn when he injured his knee, Camille told KOIN 6 News.

“That was followed by another injury. That was followed by another injury,” Camille said. “And at each juncture, there are more and more and more pills.”

She said he got injured over and over and she doesn’t even know how many surgeries he had. Like millions of other Americans, her brother became addicted to opioid painkillers.

That addiction led to other addictions to cocaine and heroin.

“Addiction is a situation of desperation,” Camille said. “And when you’re in a desperate situation and you’re a desperate person. Because all people in desperate situations are desperate, they will do desperate things.”

George Tschaggeny tried hiding his face while being arraigned in court Monday, June 5, 2017. (KOIN)

Camille believes when her brother witnessed the attack on those 2 men, his first instinct was to help. She said what he’s accused of doing makes her sick, but she believes it was the addiction acting.

“The Elwood that lives inside this addiction has taken control,” Camille said. “That Elwood jumped up and attempted to do what he could to render aid. Elwood is the kind of guy who would be the first one to shove a gauze on a bleeding wound. And then when he saw that there was nothing he could to effect a positive outcome, the voice of the addiction grabbed him and said ‘dude, we’re in a desperate situation. This is time for a desperate act.'”

Ricky Best, 53, was killed in a stabbing on a MAX train, May 26, 2017. (Family via CNN)

She hopes the Best family can see that there is more to the story than the crime and have compassion.

“I’m not begging for the family’s forgiveness,” Camille said. “I think it’s an ask too great. We are all so horribly, horribly sorry for the additional wrong that they suffered.”

Camille said addiction is what happens when the pain stops being just physical and people start dosing their emotional paid too.

“If you think for one minute this can’t happen with someone in your family,” Camille said. “You are grossly mistaken.”

Below is the text awarding Elwood Tschaggeny the Civilian Medal of Heroism:

On March 17, 2010, Portland Police responded to a bank robbery in downtown. The suspect was tracked down by police and was found sitting in a stolen vehicle counting his stolen money. Upon being discovered the suspect sped away from police where he later crashed into a transport bus at the entrance of Providence Hospital.

After crashing, the suspect, armed with a gun, ran into the hospital’s emergency room where he dropped his pistol. As officers were chasing the suspect, he exited the hospital and ran into adjoining neighborhoods. Mr. Elwood Tschaggeny was in his front yard along with Mr. Scott Morales when they heard police sirens.

Both Mr. Tschaggeny and Morales spotted a man running from officers. They immediately decided to take action, chasing and eventually taking the suspect to the ground, holding him there until officers arrived.

Once the suspect was handcuffed, officers found that the suspect had been holding a knife in his hand the entire time he was being held down unrestrained by Mr. Tschaggeny and Mr. Morales. According to investigators this was the second armed robbery and bank chase the suspect had been involved in. Unlike the first robbery the suspect was unable to elude thanks to the quick actions of these two citizens.

In recognition of your courageous and selfless actions while putting yourself in harms way to assist officers in capturing an armed suspect, Elwood Tschaggeny and Scott Morales, you are hereby awarded the Civilian Medal of Heroism.

Complete coverage of the MAX attack