It’s Valentine’s Day and Chris Schwab, a personal trainer from Happy Valley is in his car on Highway 26, taking his girlfriend to Cannon Beach for a romantic weekend.
It was about 6PM and they had passed Camp 18 and were coming up on Milepost 16 when things changed.
“There was an Acura headed East-bound,” he says. “It swung out, saw the oncoming traffic and tried correct things.
“But it was too late.”
The Acura dove into a Mercedes SUV, says Schwab "in a massive over-correction."
I was about a half-mile beyond where the crash happened and when the vehicles came by on flat-bed trucks, it was clear that the crash had been more than a simple fender-bender..
“It was an explosion,” says Schwab. “It was sudden and destructive.”
Schwab got out of his car and ran to the Mercedes.
State Police later said the Mercedes was a 2014 SUV driven by 59-year-old Eric Fullerton. There was also an adult woman and three juveniles in the vehicle.
“I immediately pulled open the back passenger door and he got out,” says Schwab. “I checked on the other side and everyone had managed to get out.
“Surprisingly everyone seemed okay. Shaken up but okay.”
The State Police confirmed that the driver was okay and the four others had minor injuries but were basically okay.
Schwab says the Acura Integra and its occupants were not as lucky.
“It was really slammed up and they were clearly hurt,” he says. “The driver was standing up, his head through the sun roof. There was blood everywhere and he was not in good shape. But he was talking.”
Schwab says he and someone from a car that had been behind him helped the man out of the car.
“I looked at the passenger and thought he was certainly going to be pinned but we were able to get him out,” says Schwab.
Schwab says both people from the Acura were talking but not very coherently. He’s not going to make any judgments about what might have happened but did point out that he saw police removing a bottle of alcohol from the Acura.
State Police says the investigation is ongoing and they have not yet made any conclusions. They say the Acura – a 1997 Integra – was being driven by 19-year-old Carlos Martinez Cortes of Warrenton. His passenger was Shane Link 18.
Both were seriously injured. Cortes was taken to Legacy Emanuel and Link to OHSU.
“What amazes me is that no one was killed,” says Schwab. “They were going fast and they hit head-on. It was a terrible moment.”
Schwab says the force of the impact sent parts of the Acura flying 20 feet through the air, landing beyond the Mercedes and in front of his car.
“It’s just a miracle,” he says.
While that may be the case, records kept by the Oregon Department of Transportation and compiled every year show deaths in crashes are becoming rarer.
ODOT's 2012 Crash Summary Book – the most recent one published, it indicated there had been 336 deaths in 2012. That was up five from the previous year but 80 fewer than had occurred in 2008.
That was pretty much the only good news.
Both crashes and injuries have been steadily rising over the past five years.
In 2012, there were 49,798 crashes resulting in 36,085 injuries. That is up from 41,816 crashes in 2008 that resulted in 26,806 injuries.
“People are so reckless,” says Schwab. “It makes me really upset. In this case there were kids in the car. What’s so important that you have to pass people to gain a few feet?”
What made Schwab angrier was that after everyone had spent two hours not moving because of what was clearly a bad crash - anyone who was headed West-bound and caught in the delay would have had the wreckage of the cars towed past them; they would have seen the damage, it was as fi nothing had changed.
The minute they could start moving again, they started speeding and passing each other.
“It was almost immediately,” says Schwab. “First one car and then two more. It’s moronic.”
Schwab says he was so shaken up by the experience that when he and his girlfriend headed home Sunday night, he took a different route.
“I just didn’t want to drive by that spot again. I’m still having trouble believing that no one had been killed.
“It’s really a miracle.”