Man killed in semitrailer crash into Bear Creek

Investigators are working this morning to reconstruct a crash that left a semi-truck driver dead Thursday afternoon after the truck lurched off the Interstate 5 median near Exit 14 and into Bear Creek, police said.

The driver, a man in his late 60s from Northern California, was dead when Oregon State Police troopers arrived on the scene shortly after the 4:19 p.m. crash, said Senior Trooper Stephanie Bigman.

The man, whose identity is being withheld until his next-of-kin are notified, had been traveling north on the freeway when he drifted into the median, just past the south Ashland exit, she said.

The truck fishtailed in the dirt and then launched off the embankment, falling about 30 feet and landing sideways in the creek, said state Trooper Ryan Neuenschwander.

"We're not really sure what happened yet," he said Thursday evening. "We're going to do reconstruction tomorrow morning."

The truck was split open in the crash, and cardboard boxes of kiwis and oranges lay strewn around it, as diesel fuel slowly leaked out of the gasoline tank into the creek.

Police were working with a towing company Thursday evening to get the truck out of the creek as soon as possible but said they might not be able to until this morning.

"It'll probably take four or five hours just to unload everything that was in the truck," Bigman said. "And then we have to pull the truck out."

Investigators were also trying to determine the amount of fuel leaking into the creek to see whether they needed to place absorbent booms downstream, Bigman said.

"We don't know how full the tanks were," she said. "It doesn't appear that there's a lot spilling out right now."

Police believe two or three people stopped at the scene immediately after the crash and may have pulled the victim out of the truck, because he was lying on the ground when police found him, Neuenschwander said. The people left the scene before police arrived.

It's not clear whether the victim died before the crash, possibly because of a medical problem, or as a result of the crash, Bigman said. Investigators also aren't sure yet whether the man was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the crash, Neuenschwander said.

The trucking company, the name of which has not been released, was based in Northern California.

Bigman said she could remember only one other crash at the location that involved a vehicle falling into Bear Creek and that one was not fatal.

"We don't get too many fatal crashes," Neuenschwander said. "I'd say we probably have half a dozen a year in Jackson County."

A witness called 9-1-1 to report the crash, but police are seeking other witnesses.

"If anybody's willing to pull into state police and tell us what happened, we'd appreciate it," Bigman said.

Anyone who saw the crash can call OSP at 541-776-6236.

Contact reporter Hannah Guzik at 541-708-1158 or hguzik@dailytidings.com.

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