High-speed crash sends SUV airborne, kills driver

Only one vehicle was involved in this deadly wreck; the survivor isn’t yet saying how – or why – it happened …

A Portland Fire & Rescue crew member stands watch after emergency service providers removed the deceased driver and surviving passenger from this mangled SUVDesmond Moore photo

Story and photos by David F. Ashton
“It sounded like a MAX train exploded at the station,” is how neighbor Amy Farber described the sound she heard at 1:57 a.m. near at the MAX station in the Glenfair Neighborhood on E. Burnside Street, just west of 148th Avenue, on May 16.

It wasn’t the light rail train.

Police say the concussive noise was caused by a 2012 Chevy Traverse SUV, speeding at nearly 90 mph, as it mowed down a tree, shattered a utility pole, and shot airborne – striking the second-story window of a Hazelwood Station apartment, before the wreckage slammed to the ground in a neighbor’s yard, west of the apartment building.

This second story window was damaged, officials say, by the Chevy Traverse as it caromed off the Hazelwood Station Apartments building after it smashed through a utility pole.

This almost-unrecognizable wreckage was, the day before this fatal crash, a brand new SUV. KATU TV image

“It was crazy! People came out from all over to see what happened; there were people screaming. Then, police and fire – all kinds of [emergency responders] all over the place,” Farber told East Portland News as she stood in the outer East Portland morning sun, and watched Portland General Electric crews restore the wiring on a utility pole they’d replaced overnight.

“Officers located one person deceased and another injured person,” reported Portland Police Bureau Public Information Officer Sgt. Peter Simpson. “Medical personnel transported the injured person to an area hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.”

But, Simpson added, the Bureau’s Major Crash Team had their work cut out for them, as they labored through the midnight darkness and into the dawn, investigating what witnesses of the aftermath called a one-car crash. It was clear that the SUV was speeding westbound on E. Burnside Street – where the limit is posted at 35 mph.

(Looking east) Westbound E. Burnside Street remains closed, as crews restore power to the area. The vehicle landed in a yard, behind the hedge, at the left side of this photo. The minivan in the driveway was also damaged when the SUV literally flew into the yard.

“The deceased is 33-year-old Shelby Lynn Williams of Southeast Portland,” Simpson said. “Investigators believe Williams was the driver, and was ejected from the vehicle during the crash. The passenger, 28-year-old Cleveland Nelson, was transported to an area hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.”

“Even though it’s only one [vehicle] lane in either direction,” Farber noted, “Cars go whizzing along here like it’s a freeway. But, I’ve never seen anything like this.”

Working through the night and into the day, PGE crews rewire a newly-replaced utility pole.

© 2012 David F. Ashton ~ East Portland News

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