At about 1:50 p.m. last Friday, May 19, a driver in a utility-type truck careened south on N. Cedar Street, hitting two teenagers and causing damage to several vehicles, as well as a home, before barreling through the bushes while on fire and ending up on the railroad tracks, Canby Fire Chief Jim Davis said.
N. Cedar Street is southwest of N. Elm Street on the downtown side of Canby.
The two pedestrians hit are Canby High School students — a male senior and a female junior. In fact, many high schoolers were outside that afternoon — one of just a handful of warm, rain-free, sunny days in Canby in 2017 — prompting calls to the Canby Herald earlier that afternoon from residents wondering if something might have happened at CHS.
"We were dispatched to a car-pedestrian accident and when I first arrived at the scene I saw a truck that had gone through the bushes (that grow along the railroad tracks), looked up down Cedar (Street) and saw several cars that had been damaged very badly," Davis told the Herald. "Then, a police officer flagged me down and there were two high school students down on the side of the street who had been hit by the truck. We had three trauma patients, including the truck driver. The driver may have experienced a medical event, we don't know. It appears he hit the kids and went down the sidewalk, taking out a light pole and power box and hitting a Toyota Tundra, pushing it into a house."
Davis said the truck's diesel tank — the truck had a small cab and a flat-bed — ruptured and its contents spilled "halfway down the block." The rupture and spilling contents also contributed to the truck catching on fire, he said.
Canby Police Chief Bret Smith said the driver was semi-conscious when he and Davis arrived on scene about the same time. Emergency crews were held up for five minutes because of a freight train rolling through town — EMS crews trying to cross the railroad and being hindered by trains is a nightmare scenario for Canby Fire, part of the reason they are considering opening an EMS station on the north side of town.
Davis said he called for Life Flight, the trauma helicopter unit based at Aurora State Airport, to fly into the Clackamas County Event Center fairgrounds to lift the male teenager to Emanuel Hospital in Portland. The teenage girl and the driver both were taken by ambulance to Oregon Health Sciences University (OHSU.
As of press time Monday morning, Smith said the female student had been released from the hospital and was said to be doing well. The young man, Connor Zieg, son of Canby optometrist Dr. John Zieg, was still recovering at Legacy Emanuel Medical Center in Portland, and the driver's status was not known.
Dr. Zieg said his son, Connor, suffered several broken bones — a broken scapula, collar bone and several ribs — as well as a perforated lung, which later collapsed. Connor is expected to remain in the hospital for some time as he recovers.
"He's on the road to recovery, but it's going to be a long haul," Zieg said. "He's in a lot of pain, but he's going to be alright. (Doctors said) there shouldn't be any long-term issues or permanent problems. Right now, they are trying to get him up to sit up in a chair and stand to keep things working. He also has a tube in his chest to help with the drainage of fluid and blood in his lungs."
Zieg said that Sunday afternoon, May 21, Connor was in good spirits and looking much better and relieved that he could sit up in bed but that he also was feeling down because he couldn't get up on his own.
"He's had a lot of friends come by to visit, which has been very uplifting, but he's pretty groggy, too" Zieg said. "He thought this might be over quickly. He's got a lot of good friends — there are a lot of good kids here in Canby."
Zieg said he was working at his NW Third Avenue office, located downtown next to the Canby Herald, where Davis sent one of Zieg's friends, who happened to be nearby when the accident occurred, to tell him what happened.
"It was all so surreal," Zieg said. "By the time I got down there, (Canby Fire) had already taken him to Life Flight. Both the police and fire departments have been incredible with their assistance and their help with all of this. Not only their professionalism but with their thoughtfulness and caring afterword. Several (police and firefighters) have called me to see if we needed help with transportation to the hospital or anything at all. They've just been outstanding.
"It could have been a lot worse," Zieg added. "It's a miracle in two ways — one, they (Connor and the girl) weren't hurt more, and two, this didn't happen an hour later after Eccles (Elementary) got out. It could have been a real tragedy. Thank God it wasn't worse."
Smith and Davis said they did not know the name or the status of the driver. Clackamas County crash reconstruction crews arrived on scene quickly Friday but declined to reveal details of their findings, and instead referred enquiries from the Canby Herald back to Canby Police on Monday morning (May 22). Smith couldn't immediately be reached for comment at press time.