PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Beau Appling was driving his ODOT truck Monday afternoon when his dashcam recorded a tree falling on northbound I-5 near Wolf Creek — and totaling his truck as it fell.
“I didn’t see it coming, I didn’t see it start to fall, I had no idea it was happening until the windshield shattered,” said Appling, an incident responder who was working at the time. Appling walked away without any injuries, and in fact no one was hurt by the tree.
After he called for help, he said he got out of his truck and immediately began working to clear the tree. It wasn’t until later, he said, that he watched the dashcam video and realized just how lucky he was.
“It was very mind blowing and at that point, that’s kind of where I stepped back, put my hands on top of my head and just had to breathe for a minute,” Appling told KOIN 6 News. “That’s kind of when the shock really set in.”
Before the tree fell, he was out at several other crashes and slideoffs, even witnessing a driver nearly hit an Oregon State Police trooper who was at a different crash scene.
“At that time the (OSP) sergeant was getting out of his vehicle, he stepped out of his vehicle, walked toward the back of his vehicle, he noticed the car coming at him and sort of had to do a quick little run out of the way to dodge the vehicle,” Appling said.
The fallen tree blocked I-5 for about 90 minutes. As it happened there was a logging crew in the backed up traffic who said they could help remove the tree from the highway.
In the period between December 23-27, OSP said there were 912 crashes statewide. In that same period last year, there were only 365 crashes — and only 237 crashes in 2019. Officials believe the spike in crashes is because so many more areas across the state were hit by the snow storm.
ODOT spokesperson Matt Noble said the crashes are usually “a little more localized where they kind of move through the state in a little more measured paced. The holiday week has been a pretty widespread snow event.”
According to ODOT, this can happen when trees are overloaded with heavy snow.
These “hazard trees”, are any tree that poses a threat to a structure, a roadway or a person — trees that could potentially fall over, or part of the tree could fall, and injure someone or damage a structure. This is more common in high elevation areas such as Cascade highways.
During winter, heavy wet snow can pile up on trees and if they are dying or dead trees, or have some other structural defect, that heavy wet snow can bring down branches or it can bring down the entire tree.
ODOT said it is important to drive slower in winter weather and to keep a close eye out for trees that are close to the roadway that could possibly fall.