May 25, 2001 11:00 pm

By The Observer

A former La Grande child-care provider alleged to have sexually molested five girls in his care has been arrested and is being held in the Multnomah County jail.

A formal arraignment in Union County, charging Bryant Miner, 47, most recently of Beaverton, with 51 counts of sexual abuse, rape, sodomy and unlawful penetration of children, is expected to take place Thursday morning.

Miners arrest Thursday in Multnomah County came a week after an indictment was handed down by a Union County grand jury. The indictment followed a months-long multi-agency investigation.

Union County Deputy District Attorney Janie Burcart, who will prosecute Miner, said charges of first-, second-, and third-degree rape are among the charges now facing Miner.

The 51 charges involve girls between approximately 5 and 17 years old at the time the incidents allegedly occurred between October 1989 and August 2000.

According to victim statements, all the girls were or had been babysat by Miner during the time he allegedly abused them, Burcart said.

Miner was reported to be living in a transient hotel in Beaverton at the time of his arrest.

Miners alleged crimes came to light when a girl, now 18, came to authorities to report she was concerned about a younger half-sister that Miner was trying to contact.

She was a very, very brave girl, Burcart said of the victim who first reported Miner. She was trying to save her sister.

Miner has had other brushes with police, Burcart noted. In the late 1990s he was arrested and alleged to have assaulted one of the girls now identified as one of his victims. At the time, police didnt have the testimony needed to charge him with assault and Miner was cited for harassment.

Miner first made headlines in La Grande in 1997 as the driver of the vehicle in which Kathy Ann Finnstrom, 14, was riding when the vehicle was struck by Avery Reese as he tried to flee police. Finnstrom was killed in the crash and Miner was injured.

Burcart said that one concern with prosecuting Miner is that several of the charges he is facing pre-date Ballot Measure 11 sentencing guidelines.

That poses a question of sentencing should Miner be found guilty. Before Measure 11, a conviction of sodomy could result in a sentence of five years, with 20 percent reduced. After Measure 11, sodomy with a minor child carries a 100-month sentence, or nearly eight-and-a-half years. The sentence can also be increased to 130 months if the defendant is found guilty of three charges.

You dont get a free one anymore, she said.

In working to get Miner indicted, Burcart said the efforts of many people were important. Oregon State Police Detective Pat Montgomery and La Grande Police Detective Gary Welberg were both credited with doing key investigative work. The alleged victims were all interviewed and examined at the Mount Emily Safe Center, Burcart said, and all displayed courage in coming forward.

Burcart is concerned that there may be other girls in the area who were alleged victims.

She said that anyone wishing to come forward can either contact one of the detectives or call her office at 963-1007.