Fire engine struck at crash memorial site

An Ashland man whose blood-alcohol level reportedly was more than twice the legal limit crashed his pickup into the back of a Jackson County Fire District No. 5 engine and then into a power pole Tuesday night.

The accident happened in the same area of Highway 99 in Phoenix where a Medford man died earlier that day after his Jeep Cherokee left the road and smashed into a tree.

Late Tuesday evening, a District 5 crew responded to a report of a fire near the tree hit by Matthew Lee Wilson, 24.

The crew found that someone had placed memorial candles near the crash scene, said Division Chief Darin Welburn.

"We decided that it would be best if we put out the candles because people were calling them in as a fire," Welburn said. "It's understandable because a fire had happened there that morning."

Wilson's Jeep burst into flames after he struck a tree near Highway 99 and Cabbage Lane shortly after 3 a.m. Wilson died at the scene.

The firefighters had doused the candles and were pulling away when they noticed a vehicle gaining on them at a high rate of speed.

At the last second, the Ford F-150 pickup veered, but not before clipping the rear of the engine. The pickup then shot forward 100 yards and smashed into a power pole.

No one was injured in the crash, but it could have turned out badly for everyone involved, Welburn said.

"It was a very scary incident," he said. "It could have been a tragic accident for the other driver."

The driver was identified as 59-year-old Benjamin C. Qualkinbush of Ashland.

He was detained at the scene by Oregon State Police troopers and then taken to a detox center, where he reportedly blew a .18, which is more than twice the legal driving limit of .08.

Qualkinbush was not lodged in the Jackson County Jail following his release from the detox center, jail records show. He was convicted of driving under the influence of intoxicants in 2004.

Meanwhile, District No. 5's 2000 International fire engine is out of service pending repair, Welburn said.

"It damaged the rear of the engine," he said. "It took out the tail and backup lights. It wasn't bad, but it was bad enough."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or

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