Fatal ditch wreck draws OSHA fine for Vale district

VALE – As was routine, John Harrison and a co-worker at Vale Oregon Irrigation District checked out their trucks before start the day’s chores.

For three weeks, the two had been hauling concrete chunks and other material along to shore up banks of a canal running north and west of Vale.

The dirt road at the end of their route was too narrow for trucks to pass, so the two timed their trips in. One would go in, unload, and come back out, clearing the way for the next.

On the morning of Wednesday, Oct. 27, Harrison was the first truck in on the dirt road. The driver following him, Zach Marks, later told investigators he went onto the road and pulled into a wide spot to wait for Harrison to pass him on the exit trip.

That’s when he saw Harrison’s dump truck off the road, on its side, down an embankment.

The Malheur County Sheriff’s Office reported that the truck gradually veered off the road onto a soft shoulder when it tipped and rolled.

Harrison was thrown from the vehicle, which then rolled onto him. Harrison, 26, died at the scene, according to state investigators.

State officials subsequently concluded that the irrigation district had violated safety laws and earlier this year levied a $2,800 fine. The district didn’t contest the penalty.

Oregon OSHA cited the district for a serious violation for not requiring employees to wear seat belts. OSHA inspectors said in their report that Harrison wasn’t wearing one at the time of the crash.

Tyler King, irrigation district manager, told investigators “that they don’t have a safe driver policy and that most of those things are common sense things to do.”

 The agency also cited the irrigation district for allowing Harrison “to operate the vehicle without having obtained the proper license.”

The report said Harrison had only a commercial learner permit, which required that he have a fully licensed driver with him.

“Employees were allowed to drive without that supervision,” the report said, noting that King, the manager, said that “the employee only had a learner permit as he failed his last text exam.”

King last week said he wouldn’t comment on the accident or the state’s findings.

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