An eagle sits watch over the Columbia River off I-84

What really caused the bus crash on I84?

It had been an awesome surprise vacation given to me by my husband and children for Christmas. We had been to Issaquah Washington to see my sister-in-law and her family, and then over to LaGrande Oregon for lots of hugs and snuggles with our grandbabies.

Our day of departure home began like any other departure. We said goodbye with many hugs and a few tears to our daughter and her family and then began our journey home to Roseburg, entering Interstate 84 at approximately 9:30 a.m. The road so far was clear of ice and snow and traffic didn’t seem to be too heavy. By the time we were somewhere around the 228 rest area, road conditions were changing as we passed the snow plow that had lifted it’s blade for traffic to pass in the slow lane. That left the fast (left hand) lane impassable due to visible ice so traffic slowed some as we all bottle necked into the slow (right hand) lane. With the given road conditions my husband maintained a safe distance of 4-5 car lengths between us and the semi truck we were following and traffic slowed to between 55-60 mph. The only car behind us had passed us before the snow plow, throwing gravel up and leaving a pea sized chip in the windshield of our Jeep. With ice hanging beautifully from the trees I decided to change lenses on my T3i camera in the event I saw something I wanted to photograph which I often do when riding in the passenger seat. I had just changed my lenses and reached in the seat behind me to place my unused lens in the case when I saw a bus bearing down our Jeep fast and I said “Oh my God! That bus is going to hit us!”. My husband looked to his rear view mirror and saw the front of the bus rapidly approaching. Adrenaline began to pump through us as we have a semi truck in front of us and a speeding bus behind us. That bus had to be traveling between 70 & 80 mph as we were going 60. Then the bus swerved into the icy fast lane. As his wheels came into contact with the ice, the truck began to fishtail back and forth (right to left )and appeared to try to return to the slow lane but instead slid sideways, hitting the concrete barrier with the nose of the bus and it began sliding toward us, perpendicular to the road. My husband was forced to pick up speed to put distance between us and the out-of-control bus but couldn’t lose too much distance between us and the truck in front of us. We feared we would be pushed under the semi and passing it was not an option either. In what appeared to be one motion, the bus spun approximately a 180 degree turn, scarcely missing us and slid nose first through the guardrail. We heard a loud pop as the bus hit the guardrail and hit hard on the front driver side and rolled clockwise to the passenger side of the bus. At this point we lost sight of the bus and I had my cell phone in my hand with 911 on the phone even as the bus was undoubtedly still rolling. Luckily nobody was behind the bus and my husband managed to somehow keep the bus from clipping our Jeep.

The first safe place to stop was the weigh scales a couple hundred feet ahead and as we followed the semi into the closed weigh station. The driver of the semi jumped out and was trying to get the lady in scale shack to call for help. We indicated we had 911 on the line. The truck driver got in his truck and left. The woman at the weigh scales, an employee from Department of Transportation spoke with us briefly and it was decided she should take her vehicle down to flag traffic until police arrived. We waited a half hour before deciding to go ahead and leave as 911 dispatch had our contact information. It appeared by the amber lights we saw, that the snow plow had caught up to the crash sight and had stopped but we still did not see any emergency vehicle lights. As we prepared to leave the scales, a red SUV skid off the road and into the scales in front of us, hitting a reflector post. We asked if she was alright and she said “Yah but I think I hit something”. We told her “Yes. Ice. Probably should slow down a little”. Informed her of the bus off the road and she was unaware she had even passed the crash only a couple hundred feet back.

It was a melancholy ride home and it would be 10 hours between the time we called 911 and the time we arrived home that night. Still we had not heard anything from the police and we knew we were the only witnesses to give them answers even though they had already given a press release. My husband called the Pendleton dispatch and only then did we receive a call from a state policeman to give our account of what really happened on I-84. We know those victims and their families want answers. On Friday, my husband again called dispatch as other than the initial police officer, we still had not heard from an investigator. We gave permission to give our phone number out and within minutes an attorney for some of the victims called us. He didn’t even know there were any eye witnesses. How does something that important get over looked? The attorney from British Columbia who is also licensed to practice in the United States traveled to Roseburg on Saturday after spending all day Friday at the crash site, to meet with us and to get a sworn statement. We felt a huge load lifted from our shoulders. As we have relived that horrible sight over and over, we can only imagine the horror the surviving victims and their families must be living. They deserve to know what really happened on that icy stretch of pavement on Interstate 84. We pray that our testimony can bring them some answers and some closure. My husband and I thank God daily for protecting us and sparing us from the horrific sight of seeing what was left just over the canyon. Our hearts are heavy for those who were on that bus.

I leave you with this one thought. “Every decision we make is going to affect someone. It may only be us, it may be many. Every choice has consequences; some good, some bad and some indifferent. No one is exempt. We must think of how our choices will affect us and those around us.”

Buckle up and drive safely and responsibly.

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Older Cow Girl says ... on Monday, Jan 7 at 4:38 PM

Thank you for being so brave in presenting the facts for the families. Not everyone would stick their necks out like you've done. I lost my father at 13 yrs old due to a crash. My life was never the same after that. Older Cow Girl from Azalea, OR

TinaSaxton says ... on Monday, Jan 7 at 7:18 PM

*To correct my own error, it was the bus that began to fishtail, not the truck. So sorry for the error.

oakislandgirl says ... on Thursday, Jan 10 at 1:05 PM

I agree with cowgirl, thank you for your account of this horrific accident, it had to be very difficult to go through. We drive our daughter to EOU on this stretch and I was surprised how fast folks drive during these dangerous conditions.

Larry L. says ... on Friday, Jan 11 at 12:23 PM

Thank you very much, Tina Saxton, for clarifying that it was the bus that fish-tailed rather than the truck. I was thinking, "She had to mean that it was the bus, not the truck."

T.S.1260Dispo10 says ... on Sunday, Jan 13 at 7:01 PM

I wish I had more than 250 characters to describe my disappointment in your article and your actions. You did nothing, no offering of help, a coat, blanket or even letting the victims know you called 911. Choices that affect others indeed!

Jen says ... on Monday, Jan 14 at 11:06 AM

T.S.1260Dispo10 - You really expected pedestrians to try and get down the embankment to offer assistance? Really?!?!? They did what any responsible person should do - they called 911, pulled over and waited to give a statement AND kept safe!!!

Annonymous says ... on Monday, Jan 14 at 2:12 PM

As a person there in the middle of it, the first days were spent just trying to identify people that were sent all over the state- not so easy with names we can't spell and all sounding similar. The focus was on healing, not on blaming and anger.

Tom Chereck Jr says ... on Thursday, Sep 5 at 3:23 PM

God' hand of protection and Divine Providence were on us that crash day. The bus passed us out of Baker City, at about 75mph. We stopped for breakfast in LaGrande. You can view our 24 videos on our YouTube channel, Floraspec 3k vws Thanks for story

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