Driver Hits Cars, Bicyclist on Park Street
Andy Monserud contributed additional reporting.
A driver in a red Silverado struck eleven cars and left one bicyclist injured this afternoon after apparently losing control of his vehicle while driving through campus.
Between 2:45 and 2:50 p.m. on Friday, April 4, the truck drove into one moving car on the south side of Reid Campus Center and proceeded to strike multiple parked cars along the right-hand side of Park Street, near Sherwood Athletic Center. Several cars were pushed up onto the sidewalk after being pushed along by the truck or other cars that had been originally hit by the truck.
One female bicyclist, who is not a Whitman student, was injured in the accident and transported to a local hospital. No Whitman community members were involved in the accident.
Walla Walla community member Susan Hussey says she was in the Rose Street Safeway parking lot when she saw the red truck run through a red light. She followed the car and called 911 to report the driver.
“I was pulling out of the Safeway parking lot and saw this maroon suburban driving erratically,” she said. “I called dispatch right away right after Safeway, and I talked to them the whole way, begging them to hurry to get here, [thinking] he’s going to kill somebody.”
The truck struck a car from behind on Palouse and Alder street, backed up and hit the same car again. The driver of the truck then headed west towards campus on Park Street.
First-year Jack Eiford was sitting with a friend behind Reid when he heard a loud noise, which he first thought was a blown tire. He looked up and saw that the truck had pushed a black car along the road. As he approached the road, Eiford saw the bicyclist on the ground. He says he believes the driver of the black car collided with bicyclist when the truck hit the back of the black car.
“We looked up and saw the red car bumper to bumper with the black car, pushing on it,” said Eiford. “The biker was on the ground and she didn’t look well.”
The driver of the black car and her passenger are students at Walla Walla High School and were taken to Welty Health Center until their parents came to pick them up.
According to Dean of Students Chuck Cleveland, Director of Outdoor Programs Brian Sheedy was one of the first on the scene and ran over with a first-aid kit and gloves to assist the injured bicyclist.
“There’s been a lot of Whitman staff out here providing support and security has been doing a great job,” said Cleveland. “It’s just a horrific scene. I’ve never seen anything like this at Whitman, and I’ve been here for 33 years.”
Soon after witnessing the scene between the black car, the truck and the bicyclist, Eiford says he heard more loud, popping noises. He looked down Park Street towards Cordiner Hall and Sherwood Athletic Center and saw that the truck had run into more parked cars. He believes that the driver of the truck may have ran the stop sign between Park Street and Boyer.
“We thought this [the black car and the bicyclist] was just the accident, then we came up to the road by Reid and we were looking down to Sherwood and Cordiner and saw all of these cars had been hit and heard the sirens,” he said. “There were already policeman at the scene by the time we ran over.”
Sophomore Kevin Gardner, who was exercising at Baker Ferguson Fitness Center when the accident took place, saw the driver come to a stop near the entrance of the Harper Joy Theater parking lot, get out of his car and collapse nearby.
“When I went up to him, he was just unconscious, but I couldn’t tell what happened to him or what was wrong with him,” he said.
Gardner says the driver was a Caucasian male and looked to be in his 50s. The license plate on the car was from Washington.
Walla Walla community member Joe Bardett had been driving with his wife and son when he saw the truck approaching. As the car approached he slowed down but was still hit. Bardett ran up to the driver after he left his truck; he says he looked disoriented.
“He climbed out of the car, staggered a bit, looked at me with glazed eyes and was trying to walk away. And I grabbed hold of him, and I said ‘stay,’ and he started falling down, so I laid him down on the ground on his side and went back to check that everybody was okay in my car,” he said.
Senior Frannie Nunn, whose car was parked on the right side of Park Street and was pushed up the sidewalk by the truck, says she saw the man curled up on the ground after leaving his car.
“I’m just glad that I wasn’t in my car,” she said. “I’m now just waiting for the police report so I can file a claim with my insurance.”
Sergeant Steve Potter was one of the first officers on the scene and believes that the driver may have been dealing with medical problems when the accident occurred. The driver was taken by ambulance to a local hospital.
“At this point, it appears to be a medical issue, but we can’t confirm that. More tests have to be done at the hospital,” he said.
The police have confirmed a total of twelve cars were damaged in the incident, including the driver’s. Cleveland assisted Whitman staff and students whose cars that had been hit on campus.
“There are a lot of administrators here, we’re tracking down the names of the people’s whose cars have been hit. We’re also talking to many students, some of which were witnesses,” he said.
Gardner says he’s surprised and thankful there were not more injuries.
“I’m a paramedic back home and I deal with this often. For such a huge pile-up, it’s good that there’s only really one person hurt,” he said.
Editor’s note April 4, 2014 9:30 p.m.: This article has been updated to reflect that the car in question was a Silverado truck, not an SUV as had been reported earlier.