Firefighters free man pinned under construction equipment on Highway 500

Man hospitalized in critical condition

By Paul Suarez, Columbian freelance

Published:

Updated: September 20, 2012, 7:32 PM

 

A construction worker suffered life-threatening injuries early Thursday after being pinned under a paving machine on state Highway 500, officials said.

Firefighters were dispatched to the incident just before 3:30 a.m. on west Highway 500 just east of the 39th St. exit.

Crews arrived a few minutes later and found a man had been backed over by a paving machine, said Kevin Stromberg, spokesman for the Vancouver Fire Department. Crews asked for assistance from the Region 4 Technical Rescue Team, which specializes in difficult extrications.

Crews used a front-end loader to lift the machine off the man, who was conscious and alert the entire time, Stromberg said. Firefighters placed lumber under the lifted machine to make sure it wouldn’t fall back on the victim.

“It’s a pretty extensive operation,” Stromberg said.

The man, identified by Washington State Patrol as Justin Pitts, was freed by about 4:04 a.m. and sent to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center with life-threatening injuries. Later in the day, he was transferred to Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, where he was listed in critical condition.

Abbi Russell, spokeswoman for the Washington State Department of Transportation, said contractor crews last night were completing final paving work for the St. Johns interchange project. Everything was shut down immediately after the incident, she said.

“Safety is our No. 1 priority,” Russell said.

West Highway 500 was completely blocked until about 7 a.m., when one lane reopened to traffic. Because crews stopped working, she said there will be an abrupt edge to pavement between lanes and from some ramps from St. Johns Boulevard.

WSDOT issued a statement midday Thursday asking drivers to follow posted speed limits and to use caution when changing lanes between Falk Road and Interstate 5 and when entering Highway 500 from St. Johns Boulevard through Friday. Paving will be completed this weekend, according to the release.

Paul Suarez: 360-735-4522; http://www.twitter.com/col_cops; paul.suarez@columbian.com.