Find out what happened when a huge vacuum truck couldn’t slow down, coming down off Mt. Scott in outer East Portland …
The crew of Portland Fire & Rescue Engine 29 races to the scene – only to find that the driver of the truck, overturned in Johnson Creek, had died.
Story and photos by David F. Ashton
As many Lents neighbors know, it’s difficult to keep to the speed limit on SE 112th Avenue, when driving north – downhill – from the top of Mt. Scott to SE Foster Road.
Adding to the danger of this neighborhood street, a narrow bridge over Johnson Creek reduces the width of SE 112th Avenue at SE Brookside Drive.
Mud tracks on SE 112th Avenue crossing a bridge over Johnson Creek indicate the path of the large commercial truck.
It’s still not known if the driver of a large, commercial “mud pumper” truck lost his brakes, or was driving too fast for the hill, at about 4:00 p.m. on July 8, when navigating down this steep street.
“The truck didn’t slow down, and was weaving across the street,” neighbor Becki Andrews told East Portland News. She said she’d witnessed the wreck while walking down SE 112th Avenue to Brookside Park. “I thought he’d hit [a barrier next to] the bridge. The truck missed it, and went into the creek.”
A Portland Police Bureau East Precinct sergeant and officer watch rescue crews inspect the crashed truck, below, in Johnson Creek.
Another neighbor said he was walking through Brookside Park, just north of SE Brookside Drive – part of the Johnson Creek Floodplain – and east of SE 112 Avenue when the crash occurred.
“It sounded like one of those empty, light-utility trailers you hear rattling and banging behind a car, going too fast,” said the man who didn’t give his name.
“Then, there was a big boom, like an explosion that shook the ground. I looked up and saw mud and water from the creek, flying up and over the trees [that separates the park from the avenue],” he told East Portland News.
After trying fruitlessly to rescue the driver, firefighters stand by at the scene.
The Portland Police Bureau (PPB) Major Crash Team confirmed what neighbors say they saw and heard.
PPB Public Information Officer Sgt. Pete Simpson revealed the investigators’ preliminary findings, saying that the truck crashed through a guardrail and the vehicle continued approximately 120 feet before crashing into the embankment.
“The 60,000 pound gross-vehicle-weight truck struck hard enough to disconnect the attached tank holding the mud sludge,” Simpson said.
PPB Traffic Division officers look at signs that the truck crossed to the west side of the street, before veering east, and into the creek.
Tire tracks on the west curb – but no skid marks – might indicate that the truck had lost its brakes.
It became immediately clear to the crew of Portland Fire & Rescue Engine 29 that the truck’s driver had been killed in the collision.
“The truck came to rest upside down,” said a police sergeant at the scene. “The tank slid forward, and compacted the cab of the truck into a very small geometry.”
A PPB East Precinct Sergeant looks for additional victims, perhaps pedestrians, who might possibly have been involved in the accident.
Using their computerized Total Station survey unit, officers from the PPB Major Crash Team map out the area.
During the initial investigation, officers located a pair of dress shoes that appeared to be out of place on the side of the roadway, which led to concerns about a possible second victim.
The Multnomah County Sheriff’s Office Search and Rescue Team were called in to search for additional victims.
A massive industrial crane lifts the wreckage out of the gully, and onto to a waiting flatbed trailer. Desmond Moore image
“They, along with Portland Fire & Rescue crews, checked the murky water and surrounding wooded and brush areas, using dogs and FLIR – but did not locate any additional victims, and found no indication that any additional victims were involved in the crash,” Simpson later said.
The extent of the damage to the smashed truck is clear, as it is hauled away on the trailer. Desmond Moore image
Firefighters remained at the scene into the evening hours, lighting up the area and assisting the crew of a massive crane to lift the mangled vehicle out of the ditch and onto a waiting flatbed truck. The complex operation took about three hours.
Simpson later identified the deceased truck’s driver as 50-year-old Jon Pierce Wright of Vancouver, Washington.
The following day, the crew of a second “mud vacuum truck” was on scene, removing contaminants from Johnson Creek.
Anyone with additional information about this accident should contact Officer Peter Kurronen at (503) 823-2208 or Peter.Kurronen@PortlandOregon.gov.
© 2013 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland New