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ODOT driver hurt when tree falls on plow

A member of the Oregon Department of Transportation High Cascades maintenance crew is recovering at Rogue Valley Medical Center after a snow-laden tree fell onto his truck early Sunday.

Bert Fernandez, 58, was listed in fair condition Monday, hospital officials say. He is in intensive care, but is expected to make a full recovery, said ODOT District Manager John Vial.

"He's doing well," said his daughter, Stacy Tuers. "He's been sleeping a lot."

She said her father has collarbone and neck injuries.

Fernandez had worked an overnight shift driving a rotary plow to blow snow off mountain highways and was driving a 1-ton ODOT pickup down Highway 62, Vial said.

A fir tree with a 32-inch diameter fell across the pickup just before 6 a.m. Sunday between Prospect and Union Creek.

"We don't really know exactly the logistics of what happened," Tuers said. "It was pretty much whiteout conditions."

The driver of another snowplow came upon the crash and pulled Fernandez from the crushed truck, Vial said. The second driver took Fernandez to Prospect to meet an ambulance, which transported him to Casey State Park, so he could be airlifted to Medford.

In January 1995, Thad Bedingfield, an ODOT worker, was killed when a tree fell on his pickup while he was checking for downed trees on the road to the Mount Ashland ski area during a winter storm.

On Jan. 10 this year, an ODOT snowplow driver working on Highway 66 near milepost 26 escaped serious injury when a pine tree about 10 feet tall and 6 to 8 inches in diameter toppled into the plow. The tree was flipped through the passenger side window, driven through the headrest and out the rear window. Phill Trusty, 57, drove the plow to the ODOT yard at Lincoln and used a chainsaw to cut away most of the trunk, then headed down the hill to Ashland, despite broken windows and protruding branches.

Vial noted that mountain highways are very dangerous right now, with snow piled 15 feet high at the roadside and falling trees. Highway 62 from Prospect through Crater Lake National Park remains closed, as does Highway 230 between Union Creek and Highway 138, and Highway 138 west of the junction with Highway 97. The highways likely will remain closed until Wednesday morning, officials said.

Reach reporter Anita Burke at 776-4485, or e-mail aburke@mailtribune.com.

A snow-weakened tree fell on a truck driven by Bert Fernandez of Prospect early Sunday. Fernandez was hospitalized with neck and collarbone injuries.