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Driver in wrong-way crash allegedly intoxicated

HUGO — A motorist who caused a crash early Sunday on Interstate 5 that shut down the freeway for nearly four hours was intoxicated and driving the wrong way on the freeway, police said.

The crash happened at 2:45 a.m. when a Dodge minivan driven by Ashley Whipple, 27, of Washington state smashed head-on into a commercial truck carrying containers of hydrogen chloride gas, just north of the Hugo exit.

The van was seen traveling south in northbound lanes as far away as Sunny Valley, according to Oregon State Police.

Though the minivan was badly mangled, Whipple escaped serious injury and was treated and released at Asante Three Rivers Medical Center in Grants Pass. She was cited on suspicion of driving while intoxicated, according to OSP.

Later Sunday evening she was taken into protective custody for a mental health evaluation after she called the American Red Cross threatening to commit suicide, according to KAJO radio.

She called from a residence on Jumpoff Joe Creek Road, which is near the crash site, according to KAJO, citing the Josephine County Sheriff's Office.

The crash created a scare when state troopers smelled something noxious, resulting in a full-scale hazardous materials response, said Austin Prince, division chief of Rural/Metro Fire Department.

"Based on the potential of the unknown, OSP started peeling people out of cars, and we decided to shut down the freeway at Merlin and Sunny Valley," Prince said. "It's a dangerous product. This is on the top of the list for hazardous situations we can encounter."

In the end, none of the cylindrical containers were breached, and nothing spilled. The source of the original sniff by OSP could have been battery acid, radiator fluid or something else.

"There was no spill," Prince said. "I give credit to the truck driver. She managed to keep it straight and narrow and didn't roll it."

The truck driver, 49-year-old Cindy Harp-Horn, no address listed, was not injured.

Prince said motorists near the scene of the crash were taken to a safe area a few hundred yards south of the crash. Some were placed in fire trucks to keep warm.

Other people were able to get off the freeway at the Manzanita rest area, Prince said.