A 6-year-old boy died and three people were hospitalized Friday following a wrong-way car crash on Interstate 5 just north of Vancouver.
The accident happened just before 2 p.m. when an 84-year-old Vancouver man driving south in the northbound portion of I-5 crashed head-on into a car driven by a La Center woman who had two children in her vehicle, according to the Washington State Patrol accident report.
Gage W. Musgrave was driving a white 2005 Toyota Avalon, when he collided with a 2008 Nissan Altima driven by Ericka M. Gorremans, 32, the WSP reported. The 6-year-old accident victim was in the car with her, along with a 10-year-old boy. Their names were not reported.
The 10-year-old was transported to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center, and then flown to OHSU Hospital in Portland.
At least four ambulances were called to the accident site, according to WSP Trooper Will Finn.
Several motorists who had to brake for the accident jumped out of their cars so they could help, including performing CPR on one of the boys.
“The first people on the scene were people who were driving by, and a lot of them were EMTs and nurses and paramedics,” said Eric Vinzant, a former firefighter from Cornelius, Ore.
“A boy who was buckled into the back passenger-side seat of the darker car was unconscious and not breathing, and we pulled him out and did CPR,” said Vinzant, who was on his way to Seattle.
Vinzant said he didn’t know the condition of the woman who was driving the car, but other people told him that she’d reported experiencing abdominal pain.
“The older gentleman in the white vehicle, he had his legs outside the car,” Vinzant said. “I advised him to stay in the car because of spinal precautions.”
The drivers of both cars were transported to PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center.
A third vehicle, a 2013 Ford F-150 pickup driven by Darren R. Watts, 46, Vancouver, also was totalled. According to the WSP report, Watts was not injured in the accident, which occurred near Milepost 10, just south of the exit for state Highway 502 to Battle Ground.
Less than a minute before the fatal accident, someone called the State Patrol to report a wrong-way driver on I-5, Finn said.
The accident resulted in a major traffic jam. Emergency crews accessed the crash via the southbound I-5 shoulder.
“The troopers were outstanding, opening the shoulder so ambulances could get through,” said Richard Kirkpatrick, a Woodland-area resident who was heading north on I-5.
Investigators are still trying to determine why Musgrave was driving the wrong direction. Finn, the State Patrol spokesman, said investigators were able to interview Musgrave after the accident.
“He was alert and conscious,” Finn said, but Musgrave was not able to tell investigators what led up to the crash. Musgrave will be interviewed again, Finn said, and there also are a lot of other people who witnessed the accident who will be interviewed.
“There is no way (Musgrave) crossed over the median, so he got on I-5 going southbound,” Kirkpatrick said.
The I-5/Highway 502 interchange to Battle Ground is fairly new, Kirkpatrick said. “Somebody not familiar with it may have misunderstood how to get onto the freeway.”
The interchange design does not follow the familiar cloverleaf or diamond patterns, said Abbi Russell, regional spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation. The access lanes for I-5 northbound and southbound are side by side.
It’s a “totally messed up” system, said a woman who commented on The Columbian’s online version of the story. Debbie Crawford said she’s seen drivers coming from Battle Ground who turned left onto the freeway offramp rather than following the correct route for the onramp.
That’s one possibility the State Patrol is investigating, Finn said.
“He also could have been turned around when he came out of the (Gee Creek) rest area,” Finn said.
At 4 p.m. a witness reported northbound traffic was slowed as far south at Northeast 78th Street, and southbound traffic was slow from the Battle Ground/Highway 502 onramp.