BEND, OR -- It’s been a deadly month in Central Oregon. Eight people have died in five separate crashes in the past week; all on Highway 97. A father and son died in a crash south of Madras, December 19; a Redmond women died Tuesday night, December 20; a pedestrian was struck and killed in Bend, December 21; Friday, December 23, it was a woman near La Pine; then, December 26, three people were killed near Warm Springs.
Peter Murphy, with the Oregon Department of Transportation says it’s too early to know the cause of each one. "We just don’t have all the information that we need to have. And, we have to be not emotional about it; we have to be logical about what took place, because that path will lead us to solutions that we can implement to prevent this in the future." But, he tells KBND News, ODOT has found a common factor among crashes that have occurred on 97 over the past five years. "We have people who run reports, and virtually across the board, as those reports have come back, it appears that driver error is the leading factor in many of these crashes." According to ODOT statistics compiled between 2010 and 2015, from Madras to Lava Butte, the leading cause of crashes on Highway 97 was following too close. Driving too fast for the conditions, failing to yield and careless driving were also in the top five.
With the most recent string of accidents, It's easy to blame the weather. But Murphy says, "During the week when we had the worst weather we’ve had so far, we didn’t have any fatal crashes. Now, we’ve had a moderation of the weather and we’ve had the holiday come up, and we have crashes. I can’t go from point A to point B to point C with that; but what I can do is say that driver error is the most significant contributor to crashes we have on Highway 97. Hands down."
"In the 10 years that I’ve been working for ODOT, I’ve never heard of this happening with such frequency on a highway in Central Oregon," says Murphy. "To me, to have eight people die on Central Oregon highways in a week is unprecedented. It’s not just unprecedented, its hurtful; it hurts those families, it hurts the other people who are part of it but don’t die, it hurts the actors in it, it hurts society as a whole, it hurts our engineers. I mean there’s just hurt."
Emergency crews responded to another serious crash, Tuesday night. Details have yet to be released, but when crews arrived at the scene on Highway 126, just east of the Redmond Airport, they reported a pedestrian unconscious and not breathing. KBND News will provide more information when it becomes available.