Driver chokes on coffee, hits inmate crew

A semi-truck tipped onto its side on Interstate 5 south in Wilsonville, Ore. Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. (KOIN 6 News/Bill Cortez)
A semi-truck tipped onto its side on Interstate 5 south in Wilsonville, Ore. Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. (KOIN 6 News/Bill Cortez)

WILSONVILLE, Ore. (KOIN) — A truck driver who apparently choked on coffee lost control of his semi on I-5 and flipped into a ditch, injuring two women from an inmate crew working on the shoulder of the road.

A semi-truck tipped onto its side on Interstate 5 south in Wilsonville, Ore. Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014. (Twitter/Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue)
(Twitter/Tualatin Valley Fire & Rescue)

The commercial semi carrying paper products tipped over into a ditch about 10:20 a.m. near the Elligsen Road exit. Authorities said he sideswiped the road crew vehicle and then hit the crew, then went off the pavement and into a roadside barrier in a ditch.

Witnesses said driver told them he took a sip of coffee, started to choke and passed out.

One of the witnesses, Chris Sturges, was in the middle of a meeting when he and his co-workers heard a massive boom. They ran outside and saw the semi driver trying to squeeze his way out of the passenger door. He and his co-workers helped the man out.

“He said that he was taking a sip of coffee, started to cough and then passed out,” Sturges told KOIN 6 News.

A three-woman inmate crew from Multnomah County was picking up litter left over from the snowstorm when the semi came barreling in on them. The truck hit two women, and Sturges said he talked with one of them.

“She looked at me and smiled. I smiled back and she said, ‘I just got hit by a truck,’ and she looked past me and saw the semi and said, ‘My gosh, that’s the truck that hit me,'” he said. “She had a pretty nasty gash on her head. She was conscious, someone was holding her. I asked the paramedic how she was doing he said she will be OK.”

The inmate, 40-year-old Angela Baca of Portland, was taken by ambulance to Oregon Health & Science University in Portland with serious injuries. The driver, 44-year-old Edwin Gagarin of Sunnyvale, California, was taken to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center. He was treated and released.

A second inmate was treated by paramedics at the scene.

The impact of the crash was so intense one inmate’s shoe was found about 40 feet from where she landed.

Crews remained on the scene until 8 p.m. as the diesel from the spill was drained.

This particular road crew is permanently assigned to clean up the roads under an ODOT contract. Spokesperson Kim Dinwiddie said there are safety measures in place for inmate crews.

“Before anyone steps outside of the vehicle to work on an ODOT highway, regardless if they are an ODOT employee or contractor, they must wear their reflective vest,” she said.

Signs and county trucks with lights on are always used in work zones to notify drivers. Drivers are not required to slow down by law unless signs are posted. But they are required to keep clear of crews and emergency cars.

“It’s super unfortunate,” Dinwiddie said. “Anytime someone’s hurt, it’s unfortunate.”

The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office reported Wednesday that Baca was scheduled to be released from jail on Feb. 21, but due to her injuries, a judge vacated the rest of her sentence so friends and family could visit her as she recovers at OHSU.

The other two inmates, 42-year-old Lynette Urwin and 31-year-old Ruby Johnson, were evaluated by paramedics at the scene and transported back to the Inverness Jail.

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