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Tow Truck Driver Recalling a close call on freeway (OR)


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BAKER CITY — When Terry Benge saw the silver car speeding straight at him, he scarcely had time to react.

 

Benge, who was driving a tow truck, swerved to the shoulder of Interstate 84.

 

Maybe a second later, the car whizzed past.

 

Benge estimates the distance between the car and his truck was a couple feet.

 

"It was close enough I could tell he was clean-shaven," Benge said.

 

A few miles farther along the freeway, the driver of the silver car, Logan Raye Deuel-Clinkenbeard, 28, collided with an Oregon State Police SUV driven by Senior Trooper Andrew McClay.

 

Neither was seriously hurt in the crash, which happened about 2:10 p.m. on Friday, March 12, near Milepost 327, about 23 miles east of Baker City near Durkee.

 

Deuel-Clinkenbeard, whose address was listed as Missoula, Montana, by the Baker County Jail but who also has a Camas, Washington, address, according to court records, was arrested and charged with second-degree attempted assault, reckless driving and recklessly endangering another person.

 

Baker County Circuit Court Judge Matt Shirtcliff on Tuesday, March 16, granted Deuel-Clinkenbeard a conditional release. He is required to stay with his father in Montana and to attend a status check hearing, by phone, on April 1.

 

Benge, who has worked for Superior Towing in Baker City for about seven months, was driving eastbound, toward Ontario, on the afternoon of March 12.

 

He said he had just picked up a couple whose car had hit a deer near Milepost 327. He was towing their car to Ontario, and they were riding with him in the tow truck.

 

Benge said he was near Ash Grove Cement, where the freeway enters a series of curves in the Burnt River Canyon, when he saw the silver car, traveling west in the eastbound lanes.

 

The car was rounding a corner when Benge saw it.

 

He estimated its speed at more than 90 mph.

 

"The whole car was lifting to one side from the force," Benge said.

 

After the near collision, Benge continued east to Ontario to drop off the couple, who are from Washington, and their vehicle.

 

He said the couple was already "shaken up" from hitting the deer, and the close call with the wrong-way driver added to their anxiety.

 

Benge said his boss, having heard over a police scanner about Deuel-Clinkenbeard's collision with McClay's patrol SUV, radioed him to tell him what had happened.

 

Benge said workers were still cleaning up the scene at Milepost 327 when he was on his way back to Baker City from Ontario.

 

He ended up towing the OSP vehicle, which suffered major damage, to Baker City.

 

Benge said it was his first encounter with a wrong-way driver on the freeway.

 

Sgt. Craig Rilee of the Baker County Sheriff's Office, who investigated the case and interviewed both McClay and Benge, wrote in his report that the Baker County Dispatch Center received more than 35 calls to 911 about the wrong-way driver.

 

It's not clear where Deuel-Clinkenbeard started driving the wrong way, but callers reported the silver car driving west in the eastbound lanes starting around Milepost 342 near the Lime exit.

 

Deuel-Clinkenbeard then drove through the Burnt River Canyon, which is one of the curviest sections of Interstate 84 in Eastern Oregon, and continued through the Durkee Valley toward Baker City.

 

According to Rilee's report, McClay was driving eastbound near Milepost 327 when he saw, about a half mile ahead, a vehicle swerve to avoid colliding with a silver car traveling west.

 

McClay had his emergency lights flashing and his siren blaring.

 

In his report, Rilee wrote McClay "was unable to safely maneuver out of the path of the oncoming vehicle so he made the decision to stop the wrong way vehicle from continuing the wrong way. The left front of (McClay's) patrol vehicle collided with the left front of the wrong way vehicle."

 

Deuel-Clinkenbeard's Camry stopped in the freeway median, about 50 yards from McClay's vehicle, Rilee wrote.

 

In his own report, McClay wrote he "rammed the vehicle to get it off the roadway."

 

McClay was not available for an interview because the criminal investigation is ongoing, OSP Capt. Timothy Fox, the state police government and media relations official, wrote in an email to the Baker City Herald.

 

In a document filed on Monday, March 15, in Baker County Circuit Court in support of a motion seeking to release Deuel-Clinkenbeard to either his father or on conditions set by the court, the father said his son has "severe mental health conditions for which we have been seeking treatment." The document also states Deuel-Clinkenbeard has no prior criminal history and "needs consistent mental health treatment."

 

None of the police reports mentions Deuel-Clinkenbeard being tested for intoxicants.

 

Fox, the OSP spokesperson, said the driver likely wouldn't be tested if he did not show any signs of impairment.

One of the conditions of the release agreement requires Deuel-Clinkenbeard to meet with a doctor and to take any medications prescribed.

 

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There is one road that is a divided highway for a while near our shop, and there is a road turning onto it at one point. It it has been more than once that I see someone turn out of that road, and they don't drive all the way across the divided highway to the other lane, and then they head down the wrong way towards oncoming traffic.

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