A Hermiston truck driver involved in a double fatal traffic accident escaped without injury Wednesday afternoon.
The Oregon State Police (OSP) is continuing the investigation into Wednesday’s crash along Highway 97 between Kent and Shaniko. The crash resulted in the deaths of an adult male and adult female. Their names have been withheld pending completion of next of kin notifications. A commercial truck driver was also injured and transported to a hospital for treatment.
According to OSP Sgt. Les Kipper, on July 10, a passenger car driven by an adult male was southbound on Highway 97 near milepost 53 around 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday when the accident occurred. According to the OSP, the car moved into the northbound lane attempting to pass a southbound commercial truck when the car’s driver lost control as a northbound commercial truck approached. The car crossed broadside toward the southbound lane and was struck in the driver’s side in the northbound lane by the commercial truck driven by Gene E. Weller II, 58, of Yucaipa, Calif.
After the initial collision, the southbound commercial truck driven by Lawrence E. Handel, 57, of Hermiston, was involved in a secondary collision and the truck driven by Weller traveled off the east side of the highway before coming to rest. With the help of people who stopped at the scene, Weller, who was using safety restraints, got out of his truck and later was taken by ambulance to Mid-Columbia Medical Center in The Dalles for treatment of non-life threatening injuries.
The passenger car’s adult male driver and adult female passenger died at the scene. Handel was not injured. The highway was closed for several hours before being open to one lane as the scene investigation progressed.
OSP troopers from The Dalles Area Command office are investigating the cause of the crash. Trooper Matt Zistel is the lead investigator. Assistance at the scene was provided by Sherman County Sheriff’s Office, Moro Rural Fire Protection District, North Sherman County Rural Fire Protection District, South Sherman Fire Protection District, Sherman County Ambulance, and ODOT.
According to ODOT’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System, 146 people have died in traffic crashes in Oregon this year.