December 5, 2009 in Washington Voices

Woman in serious condition after train crash

By The Spokesman-Review
Courtesy of Spokane Valley Fire photo

The wreckage of a minivan driven by Maria L. Walsh after it was struck by a train Tuesday in Otis Orchards. The passenger doors were ripped away in the crash. What appears to be a door in the photo actually is the vehicle’s crumpled and detached hood. The roof also was peeled away, leaving Walsh lying on the ground with the overturned van above her. Courtesy of Spokane Valley Fire
(Full-size photo)

Spokane Valley firefighters provided advanced life support Tuesday when Maria L. Walsh’s minivan was broadsided by a train going 48 mph.

But they didn’t have to cut apart the mangled Dodge Caravan to rescue her. She wasn’t pinned in the wreckage, and the force of the collision ripped away the passenger doors as well as the roof of the vehicle.

“The vehicle was so torn apart that she was pretty accessible,” said Assistant Fire Marshal Bill Clifford.

He said the minivan rolled several times, leaving the 44-year-old Otis Orchards woman lying on the ground with the overturned van above her.

Walsh was flown to Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center in critical condition. She remained in intensive care later this week, but her condition had been upgraded to serious.

Authorities said Walsh had just dropped off her son at Otis Orchards Elementary School when she was struck by a Union Pacific switch engine at a crossing on Arden Road south of Wellesley Avenue. The boy was celebrating his 4th birthday Tuesday.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Dave Reagan said Walsh also has a 17-year-old daughter who attends East Valley High School.

Firefighters stand ready to assist the family if they can, Clifford said.

The accident shortly before 9 a.m. was the first of two tragic calls to which firefighters responded Tuesday. The second occurred about 12:15 p.m. when a motorist killed himself after rear-ending a flatbed delivery truck.

Authorities said Michael W. Stevens, 57, of Spokane, was changing lanes in his Ford F-350 pickup when he struck an Arrow Construction truck that was about to enter the company’s driveway at 9915 E. Trent Ave.

Clifford said the delivery truck driver, Matthew P. Risley, reported that Stevens told him he was OK and asked whether anyone had called 911. Risley said he had done so, and was walking back to his truck when he heard a gunshot, according to Clifford.

Firefighters were en route when police told them Stevens had shot himself in the head with a pistol. Stevens was dead before firefighters reached him.

The calls were among 376 the fire department received in a two-week reporting period that ended Wednesday night. Those included 312 medical emergencies and 26 vehicle accidents that sent nine people to hospitals with mostly minor injuries.

There were 11 reports of structure fires, one of which actually was a “female” who lost track of a burning match. Clifford said the caller, whose age wasn’t available, “was playing with matches and one flew over her head.”

The incident occurred about 1:40 a.m. at the Valley Place Apartments, 12505 E. Third Ave.

Not knowing where the match landed, the caller asked the fire department to make sure nothing was ignited.

Clifford said no fire was found and firefighters “educated” the caller.

Fire officials were not pleased, he said, noting it was the second such incident this year. Clifford said the previous call involved a young woman tossing burning matches over her shoulder.

Other fire calls included a minor roof fire about 2:50 p.m. Tuesday at the Orchard Crest Retirement Community, 222 S. Evergreen Road. Heating tape, designed to melt snow and ice, had caught fire.

Residents who had started to evacuate the building were soon allowed back inside.

Clifford said such fires typically occur when the insulation on heating tape or cables gets brittle and cracks open. Electricity may ground itself through metal gutters or other materials, or the heating wires themselves may short-circuit and spark a fire.

If pine needles have accumulated over heating cables, as happened last winter at a Liberty Lake home, a fire can flare up quickly, Clifford warned.

He urged residents to check their heating cables and clean their roofs before this winter’s first snowstorm.

A fire in a walk-in closet Sunday was a puzzler. Clifford said the fire apparently was started by an unplugged vacuum cleaner that had been repaired recently.

Investigators speculate that the machine had overheated when it was last used. There are no smokers in the home at 7120 E. Utah Ave., and there had been no fireplace use that might have caused sparks to be vacuumed up, Clifford said.

He said a resident discovered smoke coming from the closet and helped limit damage to an estimated $5,000 by calling the fire department without opening the closet door. The fire could have spread if the door had been opened.

A pair of fires on Nov. 20 caused about $20,000 damage to a home at 8419 E. Bridgeport Ave. and undetermined damage to a shed being used as a chicken coop at 23126 E. Wellesley Ave.

Clifford said the afternoon house fire apparently was caused by contractors who improperly placed attic insulation over the light fixture in 2006. Eventually, heat trapped by the insulation ignited a smoldering fire.

Most of the damage resulted from tearing down the ceiling to make sure the fire hadn’t spread, Clifford said.

He said the chicken coop fire, discovered shortly after 10 a.m., was caused by a heat lamp too close to combustible materials – a common source of fires in dog houses.

One wall and the roof of the chicken shed were damaged, but no poultry was cooked.

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