Drifters cited as cause for school bus pileup on SE Powell

See the shattered remains of vehicles from a wreck that shut down outer SE Powell Boulevard that some say was caused by a homeless couple dodging into traffic near SE 143rd Avenue …

Using a gurney, a PF&R firefighter and medic transport to an ambulance one of the children injured this wreck on SE Powell near SE 143rd Avenue. Dick Harris/PF&R photo

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
Whether they were playing “chicken” with oncoming traffic – or trying to make their “Burnside Cadillac” roll smoothly on the pavement – eye witnesses say a transient couple were the cause of a horrendous three-vehicle accident on SE Powell Boulevard near SE 143rd Avenue in the Centennial neighborhood on September 23.

About 8:45 a.m., neighbor Angela Mendez says she saw the pileup occur.

“A man and woman – they looked like homeless people – were pushing a shopping cart, all loaded up with their stuff,” Mendez tells us.

SE Powell Boulevard is closed down for more than an hour while police investigated the accident, and wreckers removed the badly damaged vehicles.

There are no sidewalks in the area; and Powell Boulevard is rather narrow – and makes a rather sharp bend – right where the incident took place. Mendez says the transients were westbound on SE Powell, walking against traffic, on the south side of the street.

“From where I was, it looked like they just pushed [the shopping cart] out into the street, right in front of the green car,” Mendez continues. “I can’t say why they did it.”

Portland Police Bureau’s spokesperson, Lt. Kelli Sheffer, picks up the story. “A green Volvo was eastbound on SE Powell Boulevard, and swerved into oncoming traffic to avoid transients standing in the street.”

As the driver of the Volvo swerved, the driver collided nearly head-on with a short school bus, heading westbound on Powell – then spun around 180 degrees, and collided with a second vehicle, a silver SUV, that was behind her.

Looking at the damage to this school bus, it’s obvious that the car struck with tremendous impact.

“I’m a Certified Nursing Assistant,” Mendez goes on, “and when I saw the Volvo really smoking after the wreck, I was really worried it catch fire and explode. I helped the driver out of her car.”

The driver was transported to Portland Adventist Hospital.  A 10-year-old female child who was on the school bus hit her head on the back of a school bus seat; she was also transported to Portland Adventist Hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

Within minutes, crews from Portland Fire & Rescue (PF&R) Station 29 joined police at the scene.

“At the time of the accident, the school bus was picking up students for school. The driver of one of the vehicles [the Volvo], a female, was transported to Portland Adventist Hospital with non-life threatening injuries,” PF&R spokesman Paul Corah said later.

Two people were sent to the hospital from injuries they sustained from this forceful collision.

As we surveyed the wreckage, we saw that the front driver’s side wheel of the school bus – owned by the Gresham/Barlow School District – was collapsed under the vehicle; the Volvo was destroyed, and the SUV sustained substantial damage. The air bags were deployed in both the school bus for the driver and in the Volvo.

“Neither speed nor alcohol was a factor, and no citations will be issued,” stated Lt. Sheffer.

The couple who caused the wreck? “We yelled for them to stop, and someone went after them,” Mendez says. “But they just took off.”

The transients said to have caused this wreck simply walked away, looking unconcerned, witnesses say.

© 2010 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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