State Sen. Herman Baertschiger Jr. said Tuesday morning he is grateful to the community and to Senate President Peter Courtney in the wake of the death of Baertschiger's wife, Leta, who was hit by a semi-truck on Interstate 5 Saturday night.
The Senate met but conducted no business after Courtney spoke about the tragedy at the Capitol in Salem.
Baertschiger said, "We have no idea" how or why his wife ended up on foot in a lane of traffic on the freeway at the north Grants Pass exit, after parking her car on the north end of town.
"I had no inkling," Baertschiger told the Daily Courier. "It's the most bizarre thing I've ever encountered."
Baertschiger said he was at his home west of Grants Pass, the house was decked out for Easter, and his wife got dressed and said she was going to visit her elderly parents across town, leaving around 6.
"She said, 'I'll be back in two hours,' " Baertschiger said. "Two hours and 15 minutes later, the state police roll up."
Oregon State Police said Leta Baertschiger, 54, was struck by a semi-truck while on foot and in a lane of traffic on the freeway, just before 8 p.m. Saturday.
The news was picked up Sunday by media around the state and on social media. On Monday, Baertschiger posted a note on Facebook about his wife's passing.
"We are overwhelmed by this event," he said. "She was the love of my life and the center for her children and grandchildren. She dedicated herself to her family and never asking for much in return except knowing everyone is doing well. The outreach from family and friends has been enormous. We cannot thank you enough for all the support in these difficult times."
Oregon State Police conducted an investigation. The agency did not have information on how Leta Baertschiger ended up on the freeway.
"As far as how she got there, we don't have any of that information," OSP Sgt. Jeff Proulx told the Daily Courier. "We're still trying to piece it together."
OSP said Baertschiger was struck in the right southbound lane. The truck driver, Francisco Diaz of Marysville, California, was not injured and cooperated with investigators.
Harley Tyrie, 28, of Grants Pass, was driving directly behind Diaz and stopped afterward to help direct traffic.
Tyrie said the truck driver was distraught and told Tyrie he had no way to avoid hitting Baertschiger, who was wearing dark clothing.
Traffic on the freeway was tied up for hours while state troopers investigated, with a detour around the scene. The two southbound lanes were closed for an hour, OSP said, but traffic backed up even after one lane opened.
State Rep. Carl Wilson, a fellow Grants Pass Republican, said he reached out to the senator as soon as he learned the news Sunday morning.
"We're just really grieving with Herman right now and trying to make sense of this," he said. "Just a terrible thing and an unexpected thing."
The Baertschigers have lived on a ranch near Fort Vannoy Elementary School west of Grants Pass for many years, where they raised three sons. They have two grandchildren.
Sen. Baertschiger has operated a firefighting/forestry company, HB Co., since 1994, and has done ranching, farming, contracting and real estate. He was elected to the Oregon Legislature in 2012.
His wife worked in the past at Fort Vannoy and Fruitdale elementary schools as an assistant.