Crash Kills Woman, 91, Injures Policeman

Date: October 12, 2009
Location: Highway 58 & Crestview Street, Oakridge, Oregon
Names: Virginia Spalinger, Daniel Miller

Virginia Spalinger, Daniel Miller
(Photo: KVAL.com)

The Oakridge, Oregon, community was stunned and grieving after a shocking car crash on October 12, 2009, killed a 91-year-old grandmother and seriously injured a young police officer. The head-on collision at the only stoplight in the small town killed Virginia Spalinger, 91, and critically injured Officer Daniel Miller, 27, who was pursuing a speeder with his siren and police lights on when Spalinger drove her car into his path. Miller has since been released from the hospital.

The crash occurred around 4 PM at the intersection of Highway 58 and Crestview Street in Oakridge, a small town east of Eugene. According to an Oregon State Police press release, Miller, who was attempting to pull over a speeder, was approaching the intersection in the left westbound lane, when Spalinger, who was traveling in the opposite direction, entered the left turn lane and started to turn onto Crestview Street, directly in front of the police car. The two vehicles collided head-on in the middle of the intersection.

Miller was taken to Sacred Heart Medical Center at RiverBend. He was initially in critical condition, but The Register-Guard said on October 14 that his condition had stabilized. Spalinger was transported to the same hospital, where she was pronounced dead on arrival.

In an interview with KVAL.com, Spalinger’s son, Ed, said his mother was on her way to her regular Monday bowling game in the family’s cherished 1965 Thunderbird. “It’s shocking to know that in a small community like Oakridge, something like this would happen, you know? A head-on collision at the only stoplight in town.”

Oakridge police were trying to come to grips with the tragedy that left one of their own in a hospital bed. Oakridge Police Chief Louis Gomez told KVAL.com that officers will undergo counseling to deal with the aftermath of the crash.

Ed Spalinger told KVAL.com that his mother only drove her car twice a week, did not have any vision or hearing problems, and just had her license renewed last year. He said his mother enjoyed driving and cherished her independence.

As events started to sink in, Oakridge residents began to question whether police should reexamine their procedures for chasing speeders. Two locals, Don Hadley and Clifford Himmel, contacted KVAL.com with their concerns.

This was the second fatal collision in the last year that involved an Oakridge police officer chasing a speeder. In September 2008, police were in pursuit of a motorcyclist traveling about 90 MPH on Highway 58. Eric Bracken Tyner, 32, of Bend, led officers on a high-speed chase for eight miles before he missed a turn, collided with a guardrail, and was thrown from his motorcycle. Officer Zechariah Ames was unable to avoid striking Tyner with his patrol car.

According to the Register-Guard, Oakridge police are conducting an internal investigation to make sure Miller followed procedure. Both Spalinger and Miller were using safety restraints at the time of the crash.

The Oakridge Fire Department and Oregon Department of Transportation assisted at the scene. The highway was closed for about 4 1/2 hours during the on-scene investigation. As of October 14, Oregon State Police were continuing to investigate the accident, assisted by the Oakridge Police Department.

Why do people speed? To get somewhere quicker? Shaving a few minutes off your trip is not worth the risk of potentially harming or killing another innocent driver or passenger. For the thrill? The Oregon Department of Transportation’s Traffic Crash Summary reports that in 2008 alone, speed-related accidents killed 216 Oregonians. That number far exceeds the amount of drunk-driving fatalities! But, as always, law enforcement is in full effect, and the Oregon State Police are continually looking for ways to both protect the innocent and punish those who endanger lives. If caught, you could lose your license, receive an expensive ticket or go to jail.

The risk is too great—lives can be lost as well as licenses and the ability to operate your own vehicle. It’s not worth it.

Shulman DuBois, LLC, is located in Portland, Oregon, and serves clients in all Oregon cities and counties, including: Portland, Beaverton, Multnomah County, Hillsboro, Gresham, Lake Oswego, West Linn, Tualatin, Troutdale, Sellwood, Corvallis, Salem, Eugene, and Albany.