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A surviving passenger in Sunday's accident is described as a 17-year-old runaway
by: Photo courtesy of Dick Daigle, Forest Grove and Banks firefighters douse flames from the charred wreckage of a car that careened off Highway 47 near Banks on Sunday. Investigators believe alcohol and speed played a role in the crash. As of press time Tuesday, no charges had been filed.

A car traveling south on Highway 47 two miles from Banks left the roadway sometime before 5:40 p.m. Sunday and caught fire, killing one of the passengers of the car.

Both the driver and the front passenger of the car escaped the burning vehicle, but the rear passenger, Steven Brandenburg, 23, of Forest Grove, died at the scene of the crash. Officials said he was trapped in the backseat of the burning vehicle when firefighters arrived, though it's unclear whether he died upon impact or thereafter.

The driver of the car, David Baynes, 23, of Hillsboro and the surviving passenger, a 17-year-old girl identified as a runaway with the state of Oregon, were transported to Legacy Emmanuel Hospital in Portland for medical care.

The 17-year-old passenger is currently in the custody of the Oregon Department of Human Services.

According to witness accounts, the car driven by Baynes was traveling in the southbound lane of Highway 47 when it entered the northbound lane in an attempt to pass traffic. The driver appeared to have lost control of the vehicle when it reached a bend in the road, sending it into a telephone pole and tumbling into a ditch.

The telephone pole was sheared clean at its base when police and firefighters arrived, hanging in midair, supported only by the wires above.

After the car came to rest in the ditch, it caught on fire.

Dick Daigle, a motorist who arrived at the scene of the crash shortly after firefighters did, said emergency crews from Banks and Forest Grove were working hard to contain the blaze before the fire spread to a nearby cornfield.

'Some of the grass along the ditch was catching fire and they had to put that out too," he said. "You could hear it crackling and at one point they were letting it burn out a bit while they tried to put the fire out on the car.'

Robert Mills, Forest Grove fire chief, said it was fortunate the car landed next to a green corn field instead of a wheat or grass seed field, which are dry this time of year.

'With the corn being there we didn't have an exposure problem but with a wheat field or a grass seed field we would have had another exposure problem,' Mills said.

Mills said that car fires can burn quickly and continuously once the engine components begin to break down.

'Under the engine compartment you've got gas lines and a lot of them are connected with neoprene hoses and those burn off and that can lead to a pretty steady flow of fuel so sometimes they're pretty difficult to get put out,' Mills said.

But in this case, firefighters were able to contain the fire and keep the surrounding brush from igniting.

The Washington County Sheriff's department is investigating the crash and officials said they believe alcohol and excessive speed were factors in the accident.

Highway 47 was closed for several hours Sunday while officers conducted their investigation.

Investigators are looking for a witness who was driving a silver or light blue pickup truck and stopped to render aid at the crash just after it occurred. The witness may have observed the vehicle before it veered off the road and may have information relating to the investigation.

Editor's Note: Earlier versions of this story contained a misspelling of Steven Brandenburg's surname, which came from initial police reports. The News-Times regrets the error.

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