NEAR WEST LINN, Ore. -- Two months after her 17-year-old daughter Maddi Higgins died in a car crash on Petes Mountain Road, outside of West Linn, grieving mother Carrie Higgins is vowing to raise awareness about reckless driving as well as the rural road she believes is riddled with dangers.
"This was preventable," Higgins said. "It doesn't make sense. But my way of moving on is trying to create change, trying to create awareness about reckless driving."
Maddi Higgins was riding in the front passenger seat of her friend's car. Eighteen-year-old Hayden Soyk's car flew off the road and struck a pole. Soyk died from his injuries that day; Higgins died one day later.
"This crash was a result of dangerously excessive speed," said Sgt. Nate Thompson, spokesman for the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office.
Higgins was a junior at West Linn High School and her death devastated her family and the community.
On Monday, just a few feet from the makeshift memorial for her daughter at the foot of the power pole, Carrie Higgins made an emotional plea for drivers to slow down. She noted, it's especially critical on Petes Mountain Road, which is full of hills. The changing escalation regularly draws teens to "hill hop," speeding up and down the hills to try and "catch air" in their vehicles. The On Your Side Investigators observed several drivers flying by during the course of our interview with Higgins.
"I have people contacting me ... that used to come over here and hill hop," Higgins said. "If you want a thrill-ride, go to Oaks (Amusement) Park, go to Disneyland; don't endanger the lives of others."
She continued, "I don't want another mother to have to experience the pain of this. I want to educate. I want to educate. I want to make changes to the roads. I want signage."
Higgins blames Petes Mountain Road too for the crash, which she said is too narrow, with too few patrols and too few signs. She also pointed to the road's shoulders, which are thin at best. The speed limit on Petes Mountain Road ranges between 30 and 40 mph, but there are few signs.
The grieving mother is now calling for more safety improvements such radar-activated flashing speed limit signs or improvements to fill the dips in the road so the hills are less drastic.
"It makes me angry," Higgins said. "It's a matter of time. It's a matter of time before something happens again."
The On Your Side Investigators requested crash data from the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office and discovered there were 13 crashes from January 2010 to June 2014. Three were for "excessive speed," while five were for "careless driving." Only one reported crash was fatal during that time - the one that killed Maddi Higgins and her friend.
Thompson didn't believe Petes Mountain Road was any more dangerous than any other road in the county. KATU requested crash data for other, similar roads in the county but did not receive that data Monday.
Thompson also said the county made some safety improvements in the past - mostly guardrails on the north end - but couldn't provide further information. The On Your Side Investigators also called the Clackamas County traffic and engineering division for specifics on safety improvements but they referred us to the office of County Counsel - likely because the Estate of Madison Higgins filed a wrongful death claim earlier this month.
An official confirmed the county is overseeing an investigation into the crash, which he said had just begun, but wouldn't specify how long it would take or which agency was leading the investigation. The official did confirm the Clackamas County Sheriff's Office was not leading the investigation.
"It doesn't get easier"
Carrie Higgins comes to her daughter's memorial often. The bottom of the telephone poles is surrounded by flowers, pictures, notes and gifts. Sometimes she sits there hours at a time and reflects.
"It just depends on what hit me that day and where I am at in my process of trying to heal," she said.
On Monday, Higgins found a handwritten letter, protected by a plastic folder, from her younger daughter, Hallie.
"Hey sissy, it's me Hallie," Higgins read aloud. She began to cry as she continued to read the letter. "I miss you more than you could imagine. Do you have any idea how quiet it is without you?"
Hallie will get her license next month.
"That scares me," Higgins said.
For Hallie and all other drivers, Higgins said she will fight to keep them safe.
"(The memorial) is kind of an odd place to find serenity but, again, the only way to move forward for me is to prevent this from happening to anybody else," she said. "I don't want her death to be in vain, so my mission right now is to create change."
There has been a scholarship fund established, the Maddi Higgins Memorial Scholarship Fund.
Donations can also be made to two accounts at any Chase Bank, in person, by mail or by PayPal at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Click here for more information about the memorial fund as well as donate to assist Maddi's family with expenses and grief counseling.