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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Speeding driver loses control and smashes into car

Speeding driver loses control and smashes into car

The aftermath of Sunday's crash. (Baker City Herald/Mark Furman).
The aftermath of Sunday's crash. (Baker City Herald/Mark Furman).

By MARK FURMAN

Of the Baker City Herald

Randy Kramer was still expressing his surprise when the sound of skidding tires and a cloud of dust finished the sentence for him.

Kramer had a front row seat to the prelude of a violent traffic accident Sunday while barbecuing in the front yard of Tina Nelson and Jeremy Stauffer's home near the South Baker railroad underpass.

The three gauged the speed of the Ford F350 driven by Todd Douglas Cluff, 38, of 2680 Oak St., at 65 mph to 70 mph as it entered the underpass northbound.

"This was unreal fast," said Nelson.

"Two and a half times the (25 mph) speed limit," Kramer said. "Sixty-five or 70 — or better."

"We saw him blowing through and said, ‘Oh, no,'" Stauffer said. "All of a sudden we hear it and saw a big cloud of dust."

Cluff, whose truck slammed into a two-seat Honda CRX driven by Zane Rice, was arrested and charged with several offenses, including driving while under the influence of intoxicants, and reckless driving.

Rice needed stitches to close a gash in his head.

Skid marks from Cluff's truck begin just as the underpass ends and continue through ruts left by the Dewey Street reconstruction.

"All I could hear is the howling of the tires," said Steve Hull, who was babysitting at a Third Street home and heard the accident. "Then I heard the smashing."

Rice, 22, was finishing a delivery run for Pizza Hut when he heard the howling.

The smashing was Cluff's truck smacking into Rice's customized orange Honda CRX, propelling the much smaller car — and Rice — into a wooden utility pole.

"I was only going 10, 15 mph maybe," Rice said this morning. Construction on Dewey Street and heavy springs rains have left a series of ruts that make travel difficult, particularly for lowered vehicles like Rice's Honda.

"All I know is he hit me from the back and then I slammed into the telephone pole," Rice said. He was transported from the scene in a private vehicle to St. Elizabeth Health Service, where he was stitched up.

Rice's father-in-law to be, Russell Taylor (Rice and Kristi Taylor plan to be married Saturday in Geiser Pollman Park), also was finishing a delivery run for Pizza Hut when he saw the accident.

"I saw the back of the car fly up in the air and come down again," Taylor said. "I didn't realize who it was for a minute."

Baker City Police Officer Wayne Chastain arrested Cluff after field sobriety tests offered probable cause that Cluff was driving under the influence.

Cluff told police at the scene that he'd had one beer earlier in the day, Lt. Vern Hull said this morning. But a Breathalyzer test of Cluff at the Baker County Justice Center showed a blood alcohol content of .14, Hull said, almost double Oregon's legal limit of .08.

"It must have been an awfully big beer," Hull said.

Cluff has been charged with DUII, reckless driving and vehicular assault, a class C felony.

Hull said the last charge is unusual and applies "if the person recklessly causes serious physical injury by means of a deadly or dangerous weapon" or in "circumstances manifesting extreme disregard for human life."

Nameplates on the side of Cluff's Ford indicated the truck was powered by a Powerstroke Diesel engine upgraded with a Banks Power turbocharger.

Nelson was shocked someone would test out a souped-up vehicle in a construction zone.

"How could you miss all those signs?" she said, pointing to orange construction signs on Hwy. 7 before the underpass.

 
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