U.S. 95 crash victim was former soldier, devoted dad

Victor Dunkelberger, 33, of Rocklin, Calif., died Aug. 11 south of Rome on U.S. 95. An Army combat veteran, Dunkelberger was devoted to his young daughter and family. (Photo courtesy of Jason Dunkelberger).

VALE – He was patriotic and wanted to become a policeman but what really mattered to Victor Dunkelberger was his daughter.

Attending to her was one of his last acts after an accident Aug. 11 left him fatally injured on a secluded stretch of U.S. 95 south of Rome.

According to Oregon State Police, Dunkelberger, 33, of Rocklin, Calif., was driving his Ford Escape when he collided with a Ford Focus operated by Jaila Aguilera-Pinder, 19, of Las Vegas. The crash happened in a no passing zone about 20 miles north of McDermitt.

Dunkleberger was on his way back home with his girlfriend, Ayna Anderson, after picking up his daughter from a relative in La Grande.

Victor Dunkelberger’s brother, Jason, said he learned of the crash late Saturday afternoon after he finished grocery shopping.

“I was driving in the car with my kids. My cousin called and was crying and said ‘You need to pull over,’” said Jason Dunkelberger.

He learned his brother, an Army veteran with service in Afghanistan, was dead.

The main concern then, Jason Dunkelberger said, was for Victor’s daughter and Anderson. He said the family knew they were alive but didn’t did not know their condition or where they were.

Later that day Jason Dunkelberger learned they were at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. After he arrived at the hospital from California, Dunkelberger learned the young girl suffered minor injuries, but Anderson had several fractured ribs and a dislocated hip.

He said his niece described the accident to him. She told him she was sitting behind her dad and that he swerved at the last minute to avoid the oncoming car. Dunkelberger said he believes his brother deliberately turned the vehicle to take the hit and spare his passengers.

Oregon State Police senior trooper Kevin Fugate, a crash reconstructionist, said Victor Dunkelberger took the brunt of the impact.

“All of the energy went through his seated position. There was quite a bit of damage to both vehicles,” said Fugate.

Dunkelberger said his brother survived the initial impact. His only concern, Jason Dunkelberger said, was the safety of his daughter. While several Good Samaritans tried to help Victor Dunkelberger, he kept trying to get out and check on his daughter, his brother said.

“He knew, though, that he was going. He told them ‘I have to go now,’” said Jason Dunkelberger.

Jason Dunkelberger said he was not surprised to learn of his brother’s action just before the crash.

“Heroic – that’s how he has been his whole life. He always protected his friends and family,” said Jason Dunkelberger.

Jason Dunkelberger said his brother was working as an armored car driver in the Rocklin area and enjoyed his five-year stint in the Army.

“If he didn’t have his daughter, he probably would have been a career soldier. But he got out to be with his daughter,” said Dunkelberger.

The Army, Dunkelberger said, was a way for his brother to pick up valuable training to achieve his dream of becoming a police officer.

“We were really close. The dude was my best friend. We had our ups and downs but no matter what if I needed his help he was there,” said Dunkelberger.

He said Anderson and his niece have been released from the hospital and returned to California.

According to police, Aguilera-Pinder was still in a Boise hospital as of late last week.

Dundelberger said his brother’s final actions on a lonely stretch of high desert highway personify his life.

“His last act as a man was to save his daughter and his passenger,” said Dunkelberger.

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