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‘Deadman Pass’ where bus crashed called ‘treacherous’

The stretch of road in Oregon where a Vancouver-bound tour bus crashed Sunday, killing nine people, is called Deadman Pass, and one journalist covering the story on Monday called it one of the “worst places in America” for driving.

Dick Cockle, a reporter with the Oregonian newspaper, said the area’s steep incline, its snow and fog, and slippery road conditions make this area – also known as Cabbage Hill – a place where caution must be exercised by drivers.

“The Blue Mountains descend at this point down into the Pendleton area,” Cockle said from near the scene Monday. “It climbs a couple thousand feet right there. . . . Deadman Pass or Cabbage Hill and – on the other side of the Blues – Ladd Canyon are two of the worst places in America, according to some people, in terms of weather. It’s a steep, 6 ½ per cent grade (slope). It’s very often real foggy. There’s a lot of snow. It’s frequently very stormy up there in the wintertime, and the road is very treacherous.

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“When I’m driving through here, there’s a lot of truck traffic, and a lot of the truckers are from areas where they don’t drive in the mountains. . . . I used to listen to them on the CB radio driving across here. You just hear the fear in their voices. It’s a very treacherous and at times pretty dangerous place, and it’s compounded by icy fog and heavy snow.”

Police said the bus lost control Sunday morning on snow- and ice-covered lanes of Interstate 84 in eastern Oregon, crashing through a guardrail and plunging about 30 metres down a steep embankment.

The bus was headed toward a lower elevation when it crashed, but both Cockle and Tom Strandberg, a spokesman with Oregon’s Department of Transportation, said the tour bus was on a flat stretch when it lost control.

Strandberg said that road had been sanded within an hour or two of the accident, and there is no indication of heavy snow or fog at the time of the crash.

Neither Cockle nor Strandberg could recall other traffic fatalities at this area in recent history, but both said it gets its fair share of accidents.
Cockle noted how the name Deadman Pass doesn’t come from road conditions there but is named in relation to four transportation workers who were killed by native warriors during a conflict in 1878.

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“We do have crashes in the area at times, especially when conditions are icy, which there were spots of ice up there (at the time of the accident),” Strandberg said.

“One of the problems is you get up the hill and then you get some straight stretches that have ice on them, and people tend to drive too fast for the conditions because they’re on a straight stretch,” he said, adding that it’s still unknown what caused the bus crash.

This accident was the second fatal accident on the same highway in Oregon on Sunday. A 69-year-old man died in a rollover accident about 50 kilometres west of the area where the bus crashed, though Strandberg described that area as “flat and straight and not in the mountains.”

With files from The Canadian Press and The Associated Press