Two July 4th crashes close down I-5 for hours; injures first responders

PHOENIX, Ore.- A crash late last night shut down I-5 North for seven hours. It was the second in less than a hour and caused multiple first responders to go to a hospital.

A number of emergency personal responded to a rollover crash on I-5 Northbound late in the evening of July 4th. It closed down a lane near Exit 27 in Phoenix.

“As would be typical with an emergency response, a lot of agencies pitch in on a serious call like this,” explained Ashland Fire Rescue’s Chris Chambers.  He says that’s why their Battalion Chief responded to help with incident command and extracting people from the car.

Unfortunately, the chief would be involved in another accident less than an hour later.

Police say a speeding car approaching the scene was flagged down and yelled at by an Oregon State Police trooper. The car quickly stopped, but the vehicle behind it rear ended it and shoved it into the existing crash scene, injuring first responders.

“Our Battalion Chief was thrown into median strip about 20 feet, the paramedic was thrown into the closed lane of traffic,” Chambers said. The patient from the initial accident was also hit and suffered non-life threatening injuries.

The second accident shut down I-5 Northbound for about seven hours and detoured traffic onto Highway 99.

Both the Ashland Battalion Chief and the two mercy flights crew members that were struck are now at home and recovering. But Chambers called it a traumatic experience.

“This is really one of the more dangerous things that firefighters and paramedics do, working out on the interstate,” said Chambers.

“It is not uncommon unfortunately across the U.S. that emergency medical teams are involved in additional accidents,” explained Mercy Flights CEO Sheila Clough.

Clough says they take several steps to prevent their paramedics from being involved in accidents, but it doesn’t mean it never happens.

“Fortunately we don’t have many accidents like these happen. Our team tries to wear safety vests and park our vehicles in a way that protects the team. Unfortunately, it does happen and there are too many near-misses,” she explained.

Police say the drivers involved with the second incident were not impaired, and speed is believed to be a contributing factor. Chambers and Clough remind drivers to slow down and be mindful when passing a emergency scene.

“Don’t be a- the common term would be a ‘rubber-necker’, paying more attention to the accident than your own driving,” said Chris Chambers.

OSP is investigating the first crash, while Jackson County Serious Traffic Accident Reconstruction team is tackling the second. At this time no criminal charges related to the second crash have been filed.

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Grace Smith
Grace Smith is co-anchor for NBC5 News at 6. The Chicago native is a recent graduate of University of Miami with a Communication Honors degree specializing in Broadcast Journalism. She minored in Creative Writing and focused her senior thesis on social media usage and engagement. During her time at the University of Miami, she anchored multiple award-winning student television programs, covering everything from music festivals to the Super Bowl. Though she loved Miami's beaches, she's thrilled to be in the Pacific Northwest where she can experience all four seasons and have a real Christmas tree! When she’s not at work, you can find Grace glued to any television showing live sports (especially if it's the Chicago Bears) or attempting a new recipe as she learns to cook.
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