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Auburn Christmas tree trucker trapped, survives horrific I-5 wreck

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Authorities say an Auburn trucker is lucky to be alive after his big rig loaded with Christmas trees left the road and crashed into an Oregon freeway overpass. The crash on Interstate 5 left 58-year-old truck driver Fred Nelson trapped tightly inside the crushed cab of his Peterbilt truck. The late-Monday accident in Springfield wedged the cab between the sloped side of the road and the support beams of the Interstate 105 overpass. “It could have been a lot worse,” Senior Trooper Blaine Hlebechuk said. “It’s the craziest wreck I’ve seen.” Hlebechuk said Nelson was carried from the crash with significant but not life-threatening facial and scalp lacerations. He remained in an Oregon hospital Wednesday evening. Oregon State Police Sgt. Alan Gilbert said that Eugene and Springfield-area fire and rescue personnel worked for an hour to extricate Nelson from inside the truck. Miraculously, despite the cab being crushed far into the driver’s space, Nelson survived relatively unscathed. Gilbert said Nelson – a longtime Auburn resident – was transported with minor injuries to nearby Sacred Heart Medical Center at Riverbend. Hlebechuk was being kept in the intensive care unit Wednesday but that his stay there had more to do with finding space for him elsewhere. Nelson was working as an independent contractor for Newcastle’s Rushway Inc. trucking business. Hlebechuk said he doesn’t anticipate a citation would be issued and investigators have heard from witnesses who said they observed Nelson’s rig sway after it apparently changed lanes to allow vehicles onto the freeway. The crash closed westbound I-105 traffic lanes for an hour while emergency responders attempted to remove the driver. Gilbert said Nelson and the big rig filled with Christmas trees was southbound on I-5 when the crash took place shortly after 10 p.m. The truck left the road and crashed into the overpass abutment, spilling its load of trees as the trailer overturned. A Rushway employee said the trees were bound for an Auburn business and that arrangements were being made Wednesday for another truck to bring the shipment south to Placer County. Rick Little of the Oregon Department of Transportation said that while the truck was wedged under one of the bridge beams, damage was minimal to the overpass. “It scraped a minimal level of concrete off the beam,” Little said. “The structural integrity of the bridge and beam is totally intact.”