A Jim Michel Logging truck hauling logs from Bridgeport to Elgin was destroyed by fire in a Tuesday accident on Highway 82. The logs were loaded onto another truck and taken to the Boise Cascade mill. (From The (La Grande) Observer).
By T.L. PETERSEN
Of The (La Grande) Observer
LA GRANDE A Baker City log truck driver is being called a hero after getting two women out of a burning vehicle that was crushed against his truck along Highway 82 Tuesday morning.
The accident, thought to have been caused by icy roads at approximately 8:20 a.m., resulted in the death at the scene of Elvera E. Trump, 77, of Elgin.
Trumps granddaughter, Amy Marie Daggett, 20, of Elgin was in critical condition in intensive care at St. Alphonsus Hospital in Boise this morning.
The two vehicles were engulfed in flames after the accident, which spread to a nearby structure.
Daggett and Trump were southbound in a 2001 Ford pickup truck driven by Daggett. The pickup truck went out of control on the ice and slid into the oncoming path of a northbound loaded log truck, according to Oregon State Police Sgt. Scott Moore of La Grande.
James W. Jensen, 37, of Baker City was driving the 1995 Kenworth log truck for Jim Michel Trucking heading north toward Elgin about six miles from La Grande when the accident occurred, according to OSP Lt. Reg Madsen.
If there was an actual hero, it was the truck driver, said Union County Undersheriff Dana Wright, the first law enforcement officer at the scene.
Witnesses told the state police that Jensen, who wasnt injured in the crash, was seen pulling both Daggett and Trump from their vehicle immediately after the collision. Jensen told police that he had been wearing a seat belt, but officers did not know whether Trump and Daggett were because damage to the truck from the accident and the fire made determinations difficult.
The timing of Jensens actions, witnesses said, was critical as both vehicles began burning and were quickly engulfed in flames.
The flames spread to an old grain storage shed on the corner of Highway 82 and Sandridge Road. The vehicles had ended up resting against the building.
You could see the flames from a couple of miles away, said Union County Deputy Sheriff Jim Voelz, who was also on the scene with the La Grande Rural Fire Department in Island City, the first fire crew called to the accident at 8:21 a.m.
While the storage shed was scorched by the fire, Voelz said that most of the structural damage to it was caused by the tumbling logs from the log truck.
Sherry Nantz of Imbler, who calculates she was driving less than a minute behind Daggetts pickup, said that when she stopped to see if she could help, it was like a skating arena trying to get across the road.
Those icy conditions mean that it may never be possible to determine how fast the vehicles involved were traveling, said Madsen, because slippery roads are like Crisco and eliminate the signs normally used to determine speeds.
An OSP accident reconstructionist is working to determine how the accident occurred, Madsen said. It normally takes seven to 10 working days for all the information to be compiled and put in a report following an accident, he added.
Madsen reported that a third vehicle, a 1993 Dodge Ramcharger driven by Sheri E. Hardenbrock, 34, of La Grande was also struck during the accident, but didnt sustain much damage. Hardenbrock was not injured.
The highway was busy at the time of the accident, Wright said. As he drove toward the scene, traffic continued to move toward La Grande until it was diverted off the main highway by officers.
After arriving at the scene, Island City firefighters called for help from fire departments in La Grande, Imbler and Cove.
While the collision did not block the highway, officers closed Highway 82 for about 5 hours to deal with the accident, accident reconstruction and road cleanup.