Harney County crash marks deadly week on Eastern Oregon roadways

Eight people died in a head-on collision near Crane in Harney County Monday morning. (Photo courtesy of the Oregon State Police).

VALE – Over a span of five days, 11 people were killed in traffic crashes across eastern Oregon, underscoring a lethal nexus that stretched from Baker City to Harney County.

On Monday, eight people died in a head-on collision south of Crane, according to the Oregon State Police.

Police said the crash occurred at about 10 a.m. near milepost 30 on Oregon Highway 78 when a white 1999 Toyota 4Runner going west veered into the eastbound lane and collided with a silver 2016 Toyota 4Runner.

Police said seven people in the 2016 Toyota 4Runner died at the scene. The driver of the 1999 Toyota 4Runner was also killed.

The state police haven’t released any more details on one of the most deadly traffic accidents in recent Oregon history.

“It is a huge tragedy. All fatalities are tragedies but when you have this many people involved, it is pretty horrendous,” said Tom Strandberg, a spokesman for the state Transportation Department in La Grande.

The string of deadly accidents started Aug. 8 on Oregon Highway 201 near Ontario when a Washington state man died in a three-vehicle crash.

Four days later, a man died on Interstate 84 in Baker County, Strandberg said.

On Saturday, Victor Dunkelberger, 33, of Rocklin, Calif., died in a head-on crash on U.S. Highway 95 north of McDermitt.

Oregon has experienced several traffic accidents that left several people dead in each instance, according to state records.

In 1965, 14 people died and 30 were injured when a Greyhound bus traveling too fast for conditions lost control and rolled on Interstate 5 in Jackson County, according to Transportation Department records.

Nine died in 1971 when a sedan hit another car head-on in Multnomah County.

In 2012, nine people died and dozens more were hurt when a charter bus hurtled through a guardrail on Interstate 84 and plunged down a 200-foot embankment between Meacham and Pendleton.

One of the worst accidents in Malheur County was in 2003, when eight people died after a van crashed into tractor-trailer and burst into flames on U.S. Highway 20.

Strandberg said crash rates seem to be climbing.

“Nobody really has a definitive answer why those are happening but there is certainly more distraction in vehicles,” said Strandberg.

Reporter Pat Caldwell: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.