28-vehicle wreck still entangles people

Mourners ask what the future can hold; investigators seek to understand past

By Emily Gillespie, Columbian breaking news reporter

Published:

 

Be storm-smart

• The Washington State Patrol issued a statement saying that the storm is a good reminder for motorists to be sure their car is in working order, which includes checking wiper blades, tires and fluid levels.

• The agency also advised drivers to give themselves extra time when driving during winter months and carry ice scrapers, a shovel, jumper cables, road flares, blanket, additional warm clothes and a flashlight with batteries.

• Updated road conditions can be found at the Washington State Department of Transportation’s website, wsdot.com/traffic.

Matthew Scott made a trip to Woodland on Thursday morning to collect mail from his work mailbox. But when he didn't make it back to his home in Tualatin, Ore., in good time, his wife called his phone. No answer.

"She kept calling and he never answered his phone," said Amy Hasson, who is engaged to Scott's brother. "She immediately thought something was wrong."

It wasn't until that evening that Stacie Scott learned that her husband had died in a 28-vehicle crash on Interstate 5 just south of Ridgefield.

"They're just having a really hard time and taking it day by day," Hasson said.

Scott, 39, leaves behind his wife and three children, two of whom have special needs, Hasson said. He had no life insurance or any money saved. The Ford Explorer he was driving was the family's only vehicle, and Daisy, a 2-year-old Yorkshire terrier who was with Scott at the time of the crash, is missing.

A donation account for the family has been set up at US Bank, where those who wish to can contribute to the Matthew Scott Memorial Fund at any of the bank's branches.

"He loved his kids more than anything in his life," Hasson said. "He was just such a family man."

Investigation

While Scott's family grapples with the loss, investigators are just beginning the work of reconstructing the crash that killed him.

Weather was clearly a factor in the crash, said Washington State Patrol Detective Sergeant Rob Brusseau, but the agency is breaking down the chain-of-reaction collision to see if any negligent driving contributed.

"This is a mess," Brusseau said. "It involves a lot of moving pieces."

While the roadway was slick, Brusseau said, investigators have to consider "people's decisions not to slow down and maintain a safe distance."

"That's what we preach to everybody during any bad weather: Rain, snow or ice," he said.

In his 18-year career, Brusseau said, this is the largest crash he's investigated in terms of numbers of vehicles involved.

By the time detectives arrived at the scene, two to three more inches of snow had fallen and many people had walked through the skid marks. Additionally, some cars had been towed and some occupants had either been taken to a hospital or had abandoned their vehicles.

"A lot of the evidence was eradicated," he said. "The only thing I know so far is where all the vehicles stopped."

The next step in the investigation is confirming who was in each vehicle and interviewing each of them about what they saw and experienced.

"It's like building a puzzle," he said. "We'll just build it back through the chain of events."

He anticipates the investigation will take at least a month to complete.

"I'm confident we'll be able to come up with a good theory on how everything occurred and how everyone's actions contributed to the overall cause of the collision."

Anyone who witnessed the crash or was involved somehow is asked to call the state patrol's lead investigating detective, Jen Ortiz, at 360-449-7948.

The Washington State Patrol recorded 198 crashes in less than the first 24 hours of the storm across Clark, Cowlitz, Lewis, Skamania and Klickitat counties.

Scott was the only person fatally injured in crashes during the storm, but 19 other people around WSP's Southwest Region suffered minor to serious injuries.