Hwy. 97 crash victim identified as La Pine veteran

Friends, family mourn loss of volunteer active in community

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The victim of a violent three-vehicle crash on Highway 97 near Sunriver was identified Friday as a 74-year-old La Pine resident who was a disabled Korean War veteran and holder of two Purple Hearts for wounds received in battle, friends and family said.

Richard Patrick Contreras was southbound, driving alone in a Nissan Sentra at Milepost 152 around 10 a.m. Thursday when his car crossed into the oncoming, northbound lane of traffic and was struck by a 1975 International Transtar dump truck and trailer, said Deschutes County sheriff’s Sgt. Paul Garrison. The truck was operated by Mark Thomas Silcocks, 45, of Bend.

The Sentra remained in the northbound lane and was struck a second time by a 1990 Mack concrete-pumping truck, operated by Larry Daniel Briese, 38, of La Pine. The two truck drivers apparently were not injured in the crashes.

The badly damaged car came to rest on the east side of the highway, with Contreras trapped inside. Sunriver Fire EMS responded and extricated him from the car. An Air Life of Oregon helicopter had been placed on standby, but was told to stand down as resuscitation efforts failed and Contreras was pronounced dead at the crash scene.

The cause and circumstances of the crash remain under investigation by the sheriff’s office, although Sgt. Merlin Toney said Thursday that a preliminary report indicated weather-related road conditions were not a factor. The crash occurred a few hundred yards from where a semi truck loaded with bagged onions flipped onto its side about 24 hours earlier.

Contreras was “an honored member of our organization, by all accounts,” said Randy Gordon, commander of the Disabled American Veterans, Central Oregon Chapter 14. “It doesn’t matter what circle you’re talking about – in the community, with the DAV – he was held in high regard.”

He had been a volunteer with the La Pine Community Kitchen, washing dishes, and also was active in La Pine’s Veterans of Foreign Wars chapter.

“He was a good man and a good friend who understood both the emotional and physical wounds of his fellow veterans, and was always very supportive of his `brother’ veterans and comrades of war,” said fellow La Pine resident and veteran Bill Hause.

“He was very kind to me and encouraged me to get the help I needed – and deserved – from the (Veterans Administration) during the past several years,” Hause added.

He is survived by his wife, Rickie Gunn Contreras, six children, 13 grandchildren and one great-grandchild. Funeral arrangements are pending.

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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.