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Families cope with fatal crash

Five die in Highway 140 disaster, four from one Central Point family

Becky Vanzant and her Central Point family began a weekend camping trip to Fish Lake celebrating a one-year wedding anniversary and a birthday.

They closed it Sunday triggering the most deadly car crash in Jackson County in more than 15 years.

Sunday was the one-year anniversary of Becky's marriage to Bobby Vanzant, her childhood friend turned love-of-her-life and father to their 1-month-old daughter, Zoe. Her brother, Robert Bartlett, just turned 23.

Bobby Vanzant's attempt to pass a car on Highway 140 on the return trip instigated a two-car crash that left five people dead and two others severely injured.

Police said their 1999 Ford Contour skidded and turned sideways during the aborted attempt, and the car was hit broadside by a 1977 Ford pickup carrying two Klamath Falls people, according to the Oregon State Police.

— Pronounced dead at the scene were the three Vanzants and Bartlett, with only 2-year-old Juliana Bartlett, Becky Vanzant's other daughter, surviving from their car, OSP said.

Family members said Juliana Bartlett suffered a broken leg, elbow and clavicle, head injuries, a lacerated liver and contusions on the lung.

She was airlifted Sunday to Doernbecher Children's Hospital, where she was listed Monday in serious condition in the pediatric ward's intensive-care unit, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Pickup passenger Patricia Lambert, 49, of Klamath Falls, died from her injuries while en route to Rogue Valley Medical Center.

Pickup driver Max Bennett, 48, of Klamath Falls, was listed Monday in serious condition at RVMC, where he remained in the hospital's intensive-care unit, a hospital spokeswoman said.

Transportation officials called it the most deadly accident on the road between Medford and Klamath Falls in 20 years. It is also the worst in Jackson County since a fiery crash in 1988 killed five members of one family on Highway 62 in White City.

It's definitely one of the worst accidents in a long time, OSP Lt. Tanya Henderson said.

Becky Vanzant's parents, Rick and Roberta Bartlett, and her sister, Jennifer, were on the trip and in a car headed west on Highway 140 about 15 minutes ahead of the Vanzants, family members said. They all lived together in Rick and Roberta Bartlett's Ash Street house in Central Point.

The OSP said the crash occurred at 5:50 p.m. Tia Reagan, 35, Becky Vanzant's cousin, said the couple were married a year ago Sunday at a 6 p.m. ceremony at Calvary Temple, the family's longtime church in Central Point.

That whole house is completely different now, said Reaganof Medford. Death is a really weird thing, especially when the people are young. You don't expect it to be kids and their children. It's unnatural.

All seven victims were wearing safety belts, Henderson said.

When Bobby Vanzant pulled the westbound car into the eastbound lane to pass, he may have realized there were oncoming cars, according to the OSP.

He hit the brakes and the car started to fish-tail, leaving skid marks in the eastbound lane, Henderson said.

Anna Ellis of Central Point was a passenger in an eastbound car headed to a church camp at Lake of the Woods when Vanzant's car suddenly appeared in front of them. The driver, whom Ellis did not identify, was able to swerve the car to the right and miss Vanzant's car, she said.

They kind of went fish-tailing past us, Ellis said. We thought everything was OK.

Then I turned around and saw it hit.

Vanzant's car was sideways in the eastbound lane, with the passenger side pointed toward the Ford pickup when the two collided, Henderson said.

He didn't have time to swerve, Henderson said.

The pickup careened off the roadway after impact, Henderson said. The Contour's crumpled wreckage remained in the roadway, she said.

Reagan said Bobby Vanzant initially made a wrong turn leaving the campground area at Fish Lake. She speculated that Vanzant was trying to catch up to his in-laws when the ill-fated passing attempt occurred at the Fish Lake junction.

Henderson said police were investigating whether alcohol played a role in the crash, but results of tests of blood and urine drawn from both drivers will not be available for several weeks.

Reagan said family members had told her alcohol was not a factor.

It wasn't that kind of party, she said.

Reagan said Bobby Vanzant had lived a clean life since his involvement in another fatal incident nearly 10 years ago.

He was convicted in 1995 of second-degree manslaughter for stabbing to death an Ashland teenager during a summer fight, records indicate.

The Bartletts and Vanzants have had close ties through their church, with Becky and Bobby knowing each other for years, family members said.

Becky Vanzant's friend Ammie Tallman of Central Point said the pair were happy and did everything together ' even recently landing jobs at the same White City mill.

They were best friends who fell in love, Tallman said.

Funds set up for families

Friends and family members have set up two memorial funds at local banks to help the Bartlett and Vanzant families grapple with financial costs stemming from Sunday's accident on Highway 140 that killed five people and seriously injured two others.

An account called the Bartlett Family Memorial Fund was set up Monday at PremierWest Bank, which has offices in Medford and Central Point.

Another account to take donations was set up Monday at Key Bank. That fund is called the Vanzant/Bartlett Memorial Fund.

Oregon State Police troopers inspect the wreckage of the Vanzant family sedan, which was part of a crash Sunday on Highway 140 that killed five people and seriously hurt two others.