Six people die in three crashes on Highways 20, 26

Two collisions involved drivers trying to pass other vehicles; third was alleged DUII

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Monday was a deadly day on the highways leading into Central Oregon, as six people were killed in three separate crashes on Highway 20 east of Bend and near Santiam Pass, and Highway 26 over Mount Hood, authorities said.

In the first crash, on Highway 20 east of Brothers, a driver who tried to pass another vehicle pulled back into her own lane, but overcorrected and triggered a chain of events that sent her car into the path of an oncoming car. The nearly head-on crash killed both drivers and injured two passengers.

Thora E. Charpilloz, 69, of Vale, Ore., the driver who tried to make the fateful pass, was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, which occurred shortly before 4 p.m. Also dead at the scene was the other driver, Kathy Hedstrom, 60, of Roseburg, said Deschutes County sheriff’s Deputy Matt Kamasz.

Hedstrom’s husband and young granddaughter survived the crash, which was witnessed by other relatives of the family, who were traveling westbound, a short distance back, Kamasz said.

Charpilloz, traveling alone in a 1999 Toyota Camry, was eastbound on Highway 20E and was trying to pass another eastbound vehicle, but apparently realized she wouldn’t be able to complete the pass safely. So she pulled back into her lane, behind the vehicle she’d been trying to pass.

However, Charpilloz apparently overcorrected and traveled onto the dirt and gravel shoulder on the south side of the highway. Her car struck a reflector post, which blew out her right rear tire and led to a further loss of control, Kamasz said. The car then crossed back into the westbound lane and struck the Hedstroms’ 2002 Pontiac Bonneville, each on the left front corner, the deputy said.

Walter Hedstrom, 60, and Ashlyn Harvey, 11, of Eugene, the couple’s granddaughter, were flown by Air Life helicopter to St. Charles Medical Center in Bend. Hedstrom was listed in fair condition Tuesday, while the girl had been treated and released, hospital officials said.

The driver and passenger-side airbags on both vehicles deployed in the collision, Kamasz said, and all occupants of both cars were wearing seat belts. Kamasz said there were no indications to investigators that alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash. Charpilloz, driving alone, was returning to Vale after a trip to the Albany area, officers said.

Oregon State Police, Bend Fire & Rescue and the Oregon Department of Transportation also responded to the crash scene.

Driver near Hoodoo hit slush, sand in passing lane

The second crash occurred around 5:20 p.m. on Highway 20, two miles west of the Hoodoo Ski Area and 22 miles west of Sisters, when an eastbound driver lost control of his car while passing on slush and sand, sliding into the path of a motor home, Oregon State Police said.

Dustin Scott Minnis, 19, was driving a 1995 Volkswagen Jetta four-door eastbound and was trying to overtake and pass other traffic on a sweeping, uphill curve when his car hit slush and sand near the center of the passing lane, causing him to slide out of control and into the path of a 24-foot Arrow motor home driven by Melanie Ronai, 38, of Salem, said OSP Lt. Andy Olson.

“Witnesses felt Minnis was driving too fast for the conditions,” Olson said after troopers from the OSP’s Bend and Albany patrol offices investigated the crash.

Minnis and a passenger, Ryan J. Wirthlin, 23, of St. Helens, were flown by Air Life helicopter to St. Charles Medical Center in Bend. Wirthlin was listed in serious condition Tuesday in the hospital’s critical care unit. Another passenger, Janet Lee Douglass, 21, of Albany, died at the scene, while Minnis died upon arrival at St. Charles, Olson said.

The motor home’s driver, her husband, Jonathan Durning, and their two children were not injured in the collision.

Sisters-Camp Sherman Rural Fire Department crews aided troopers at the scene, while Oregon Department of Transportation crews helped with traffic control, as the highway was partially blocked for three hours, Olson said.

Then, around 8 p.m., two vehicles collided nearly head-on on Highway 26 east of Sandy, claiming two lives and critically injuring a third person.

OSP investigators said Karen A. Baker, 44, of Sandy, was driving a Honda Passport westbound when she lost control of her vehicle and drove into the oncoming lane, colliding with a Subaru Impreza station wagon. Investigators believe Baker was driving under the influence of intoxicants at the time of the crash, said OSP Lt. Dale Rutledge.

Baker’s husband, Thomas Baker, about 60, died at the scene, as did the driver of the station wagon, identified as Jenette Stafford, 54, of Rhododendron. Karen Baker was taken to Oregon Health Sciences University, where she was listed in critical condition Tuesday.

Highway 26 was partially closed until after midnight as the investigation was conducted, Rutledge said.

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Barney Lerten is the face of KTVZ.COM and has been seen often on KTVZ and KFXO in the past, offering his unique perspective in commentaries entitled "Leave it to Barney." Barney serves as Assignment Manager and Digital Content Director for KTVZ.COM. He joined NewsChannel 21 in February 2005. Barney has been a journalist since the second grade (a product called the "Room 210 Tooter,") a professional reporter for over 30 years and a Central Oregon newsman since 1991. Barney, a graduate of Pacific University in Forest Grove, Oregon, spent 14 years with United Press International in Portland and San Francisco, then nine years with The Bulletin before a unique 5-year stint reporting for Bend.com and The Bend Bugle. He lives in Bend with his wife Debbie. You can reach Barney at barney.lerten@ktvz.com.