Vancouver man fed up with crashes near his home

Car’s flight across property during chase renews his desire for city to put in barrier

By Andy Matarrese, Columbian Breaking News Reporter



The Vancouver man whose property served as the ramp that sent a car airborne in a police pursuit Tuesday night said that after five other crashes on the road below his home, he’s tired of his requests that the city put in some kind of barrier falling on deaf ears.

The Vancouver Police Department said Douglas Atkins, 41, drove off after officers responded to a call about an assault on the 3300 block of Grand Boulevard.

He sped away south, and around the Washington School for the Deaf, his car crossed the centerline and up the embankment that leads to Morrison’s porch and front door at 503 Grand Blvd.

“I’ll never forget this, in all my life,” Morrison said.

Morrison was sitting in his house, watching Tuesday night’s Blazers game on television.

“And all of a sudden, I heard a big thud, and I looked out the window and there’s this great big ball of fire,” he said.

Oddly, there was no scorching or burns anywhere around the house, he said, but there it went.

The police said the car launched off the embankment, largely missed Morrison’s truck, landed on the roof of his wife’s car, then went down the hill on the far side of the driveway, where it landed against an apartment complex below.

“My wife’s little sports car, it completely wiped it out; it didn’t even look like a car,” Morrison said.

Atkins was taken to a hospital for his injuries, and police arrested him on suspicion of eluding police, fourth-degree domestic violence assault and hit-and-run when he was discharged. He appeared in court Thursday in a wheelchair.

Morrison’s house is on the outside of a corner in Grand Boulevard as it heads up a hill, next to the parking lot for the Washington School for the Deaf. Motorists traveling both directions have crashed into the ivy-covered embankment where his house sits.

“They come around here like you wouldn’t believe,” he said.

There’s a guardrail along the south side that starts past the curve, if looking downhill, and Morrison said he’s been lobbying the city, unsuccessfully, to place some kind of barrier along the east side of the road below his house, where the crashes happened.

When he’s gone to the city in the past, officials have told him the city’s lawyers were concerned about liability concerns from drivers.

Other times, he said, officials expressed concerns about putting in the concrete slab-style Jersey barriers he’d prefer.

He’d even pay to make the improvements himself, he said. On one occasion, he said he spent $1,500 to hire an independent certified traffic engineer to look at the turn at the city’s recommendation. Still no help, he said.

“I’ve repeatedly warned the city that if they don’t do something, I’m going to have to get an attorney,” he said.

Loretta Callahan, spokeswoman at the city’s Public Works Department, said the city will send out a transportation engineering staffer to take another look at the site.

It’s hard to make any guarantees, she said.

“We understand that 100 percent safeguards would be excellent, (but) it will not be possible to engineer systems to remove all problems caused by illegal behavior,” she said.

This crash came after a police pursuit, she said, and engineering around unsafe driving, whether from willfulness or carelessness, isn’t always possible.

She said records of other crashes at that turn or previous communications between Morrison and the city weren’t available.

Old correspondence could have been forgotten due to time or staff turnover, she said, and police crash records doesn’t always reflect the exact location of a crash.

Morrison said employees from his business have been by to help clean things up around the house and insurance company paperwork is moving along.

Morrison said he’s been talking to Vancouver Councilman Larry Smith and is planning on meeting the city manager with the hope something can be worked out.

Morrison also said he can empathize, on some levels: The city’s busy, and one has to be persistent to get things done.

By early Thursday afternoon, he said his phone already showed he had 24 missed calls he’ll have to respond to.

“They got the same problems,” he said.