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Suspect escapes scene after causing multi-vehicle crash

Police were searching Saturday night for a man who left a trail of destruction in south Medford after he caused a four-vehicle crash at the intersection of South Riverside and Stewart avenues while fleeing authorities.

The driver sped away in a Honda Accord from Phoenix police and Oregon State Police troopers when they tried to pull him over for a traffic infraction at around 6 p.m., Medford police Deputy Chief Tim George said.

The officers called off the chase at South Stage Road when the car began to careen through heavy traffic on South Pacific Highway.

Moments later the driver attempted to get around cars stopped in the northbound lane at the Riverside and Stewart intersection.

Witnesses said the man tried to pass the stopped cars on the far right side of the road when his car sideswiped a Toyota Tacoma with a couple and a child inside and then hit a concrete divider.

The Accord launched over the divider, went airborne, then tumbled through the intersection sending glass and debris across four traffic lanes.

Steven Sovell of Medford was stopped at the intersection when he saw the Honda speeding up behind him.

"I thought he was going to hit me," Sovell said. "He must have been going 100 mph."

The Honda skidded into the oncoming lanes and struck a white Subaru Forester and then collided with an older model Chevrolet pick-up. The driver of the Subaru was not injured, while the pick-up's driver was taken by Mercy Flights ambulance to the hospital, George said.

The suspect then fled the scene on foot, leaving behind his injured male passenger, George said.

"None of the injuries at the scene were life-threatening," George said. "It's amazing, considering all the glass and wreckage. It looked more like a plane crash out there."

Scott Pangburn of Medford was leaving work at the Auto Outlet just north of the accident site when he saw the end of the crash.

"It came to a stop in a shower of sparks," Pangburn said.

Pangburn then saw the man climb from the totalled car and sprint toward him.

"I hid behind a truck and waited for the guy to pass," Pangburn said. "He was a big dude."

When the man did not run past the truck, Pangburn peaked his head up and saw the man inside his car fishing around for the keys.

"I guess he was going to try to steal my car," Pangburn said. "I looked into the car and said 'Hey guy' and he took off."

The man ran either north or west from the area. Police hunted him throughout several south Medford neighborhoods late into the night.

A multi-agency crash investigation team closed the intersection to traffic. Officers directed cars around the scene and planned to remain at the site throughout the evening.

"As the night progresses we hope to figure out who he is and bring him in," George said.

Sovell was happy to be alive following the chaos. He gave a statement to police and watched from the sidewalk as they sifted through the wreckage for clues as to why the man might have fled police in the first place.

It was an interesting bookend to his birthday, Sovell said.

"I guess it was my present that I didn't get hit," he said. "I thought I was going to be dead."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 776-4471; or e-mail cconrad@mailtribune.com.

Officers investigate the scene of a four-vehicle accident Saturday caused by a man who fled police and crashed while crossing the intersection of South Riverside and Stewart avenues. The man fled the area on foot and was hunted by police in the south Medford area. Mail Tribune Photo / Jamie Lusch - Jamie Lusch