A truck driver was killed Thursday afternoon on Interstate 5 when he was struck by a tractor-trailer while standing outside his rig near the top of the Siskiyou Summit, police said.
The crash happened just after 4 p.m. near milepost 4 south of Ashland. OSP trooper Jeff Proulx speculated that Kelly Lihnart, 52, of Blodgett, about 15 miles west of Corvallis, left the cab of his tractor-trailer to inspect his brakes and the load he was carrying before descending the long grade into Ashland.
As he stood beside the freeway's northbound lane, another tractor-trailer driven by Daniel Clarey, 54, of Long Beach, Calif., veered out of the traffic lane and crashed into Linhart's rig.
Linhart was standing in front of his tractor-trailer and attempted to avoid the oncoming truck but was struck and killed. Clarey was not injured, OSP officials said.
Trucker David Brooks, who had pulled off the road directly behind the victim's trailer, saw the wreck unfold as he was speaking to his wife on a cell phone.
"When the semi pulled around me and then coasted over to the side I knew a heck of an accident was about to happen," Brooks said. "It was not fun to watch happen."
The way the tractor-trailer veered back and forth on the freeway led Brooks to believe Clarey had fallen asleep at the wheel before crashing into the parked trailer.
"He had been all over the road for miles before we got here," Brooks said. "I knew he was falling asleep. Man, that's why they have rest areas and truck stops."
Proulx would not comment on the Clarey's actions before the crash. He declined to say whether he would face criminal charges in connection with the accident. By late Thursday night, Clarey had not been charged with a crime.
"We are going to be out here late into the evening investigating this," Proulx said. "It is being treated as a crime scene."
Proulx said the tractor-trailer was traveling at about 20 mph when it struck Linhart. The impact ripped open the trailer and sent hundreds of bottles of water tumbling on the road.
"It's pretty steep here and trucks usually don't move that fast through the area," Proulx said.
The crash closed one lane of traffic for several hours. Troopers covered Linhart's body with a gray tarp as a long line of traffic crept slowly past the scene.
Brooks, a trucker from North Carolina, said he has seen several serious accidents over his five years on the road. He said each one teaches him a valuable lesson about life on the highway.
"This one reminds me to slow it down while heading down this pass," he said.
Proulx said anyone driving by the area who might have seen the accident is asked to call OSP at 776-6111. Witness accounts could help investigators reconstruct the accident, he said.
Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.