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Incident Name: Traveling to the Hayman Fire, accident occurred near Parachute, CO
Date: June 21, 2002
Personnel: 5 lives lost
Age:
Agency/Organization: Grayback Forestry, Inc (Merlin, OR) under contract with the USFS
Position: firefighters

Summary: 

Those who died:
Bart Bailey, 20, of Baker City OR
Jacob B Martindale, 20, of Boise ID
Daniel Rama, 28, of Baker City OR
Retha Shirley, 19, of La Grand OR
Zach Zigich, 18, of Twin Falls ID

Those who were seriously injured:
Patrick Shorre
Anthony Kyle
Brandon Fiala

On June 21, 2002, at 1720, a 15-passenger van carrying 11 firefighters from La Grande, Oregon to the Hayman Fire in Colorado was involved in a one-vehicle accident one and a half miles east of Parachute, Colorado on Interstate 70. The group was from Grayback Forestry, Inc. of Merlin, Oregon. The van was one vehicle in a convoy of eight and had been on the road for an extended period of time. The convoy had stopped in Parachute prior to the accident for food and fuel. The van was eastbound on I-70 when the vehicle drifted to the left side of the road and into the median. The van then came back across two eastbound lanes, rolling four times and ejecting three of the occupants. There were four confirmed fatalities the day of the accident. Bart Bailey, the fifth occupant, died June 24 in the hospital.

 

Bart Bailey Bart Bailey
Daniel Rama Daniel Rama
Jacob Martindale Jacob Martindale
Retha Shirley Retha Shirley
Zach Zigich Zach Zigich

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Maps

1.5 mi east of Parachute CO along I-70

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Reports, Documentation, Lessons Learned

  • Oregon Department of Forestry: Press Release
  • Forest Service: 24 Hour Report
  • Forest Service: 72 Hour Report
  • It was later determined that the 21-year-old driver of the van lost control. The driver reached for a cup and was distracted when the van veered left. He pleaded guilty to one charge of careless driving and was sentenced to 50 hours of community service. Only one of the 5 firefighters that died was wearing a seat belt at the time of the rollover. Four of the 6 surviving firefighters were wearing seat belts.
  • The firefighters were traveling in a Ford Econoline E-350 Super Duty van. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) reported that stretch vans such as the one involved in this crash are 3 times more likely to roll over when they carry 10 or more passengers. The NHTSA expressed concerns about vans manufactured by Ford, Chevrolet, GMC, and Dodge.
    • NHTSA: Consumer Advisory -Press Release- reports stretch van danger

      NHTSA Press Release NHTSA Press Release

  • Ongoing Lessons Learned Messages in Scratchline on Vehicle Accident Safety, 2002 (125 K pdf)
  • Two More Chains Fall Issue, 2012: Wheels, Wings, and Rotors. Getting there and getting back. It's out most dangerous activity. How come? (1,649 K pdf)

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Wildlandfire.com Links:

  • Theysaid: 6/21/2002 and scroll up.
  • Theysaid: Discussion of the top-heaviness of stretch vans and driving training guidelines, seatbelt use -3/5/03

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Media Articles and Reports

  • OREGON FIREFIGHTER DIES IN CRASH

    6/22/2002 | Online Article

    A van carrying 11 Oregon fire personnel to the Hayman Fire crashed last night on Interstate 70 near Parachute, killing four, the first fatalities of this fire season in Colorado. (more at the link)

  • 'HE HAD A JOB HE WOULD NOT HAVE TRADED'

    June 29, 2002 | No longer online

    Photo caption: HUGS AND MEMORIES: Jerry Bailey, center right, with wife, Nancy Bailey, right, both of Baker City, hugs Jason Staton of Baker City at a memorial service for Daniel Rama at the Church of the Nazarene in Baker City Friday. The Baileys are the parents of Bart Bailey, who was killed along with Daniel Rama, 28, in a June 21 van accident in which Staton was injured. Retha Mae Shirley, 19, also was killed in the crash of the van full of firefighters on their way to a forest fire.

    By Alice Perry Linker, Observer Staff Writer

    BAKER CITY — Daniel Rama was a "delightful son. He had a good mind and body. He had a job he would not have traded and friends in abundance," his father, Dave, recalled Friday. "We are sad, and we will miss him, but don't feel sorry for Dan. He had it all," Dave Rama said during a funeral service at the First Church of the Nazarene in Baker City. Daniel Rama was one of the five firefighters killed in a motor vehicle accident in Colorado June 21. Daniel's mother, Judy, remembered the "small blessings" — events that may not have seemed like blessings at the time — of the past few months, after her son decided to live with his parents during the fire season. Judy and Dave Rama were among the family members and friends who spoke about Daniel during a service that was punctuated with soft sobs, and some laughter, as people recalled Daniel's humor, his love of all games, especially basketball, and his love for Mountain Dew.

    The Rama family entered the church through an honor guard of 80 Grayback Forestry and U.S. Forest Service representatives, including many firefighters. Friday's service was the first of five scheduled for the victims of the accident near Parachute, Colo. The fatal accident occurred June 21 as a caravan of Grayback firefighters was en route to the Hayman Fire south of Denver.

    A van, driven by a crew member from La Grande, swerved off the road and when the driver tried to correct, the van rolled about four times. Of the 11 people in the van, five died and six were injured. Two, Anthony Kyle of La Grande and Brandon Fiala of Twin Falls, Idaho, remain hospitalized.

    Judy Rama remembered the last day she saw her son. On June 20, the day Daniel left to fight the Hayman fire, he rode with a friend from Baker City to the Grayback Forestry office in La Grande, she said. He had not taken his firefighting gear, and his mother drove the gear to La Grande, forgetting one piece. On his way out of town, he stopped to pick it up. "That was another blessing," Judy Rama said. "Meagan (his sister) got one more hug."

    Mike Baybado, assistant manager at Grayback's La Grande office, also remembered the day Daniel left La Grande with about 50 firefighters from the private contracting company. Daniel had been made a crew boss, supervising 20 people. As the crew was loading up, Baybado said, "Dan, you've got a good crew," and he asked Daniel to "take care of them." "Dan gave me that casual glance and said, ‘Hey, man, no problem... ' "If any one person is holding their hand (those who died in Colorado), I'm glad it's Dan."

    Standing amid mementos of Daniel, including his guitar and a basketball-shaped balloon, Pastor Roger Scovil of the Baker City Christian Church told the nearly 200 people that today is a "time of cherishing the happy moments, cherishing what he has given to you."

    A service for Retha Shirley will begin at 11 a.m. today at Joseph High School, and the service for Bartholomew Bailey will begin at 2 p.m. today at the Church of the Nazarene in Baker City. Services for the two other victims, Jacob Martindale of Boise and Zach Zigich of Twin Falls, Idaho, will take place in Idaho.

  • LARGE CROWD REMEMBERS SHIRLEY, 19

    July 1, 2002 | No longer online

    By Gary Fletcher, Observer Staff Writer

    JOSEPH — On a hilltop overshadowed by Chief Joseph Mountain Saturday, mourners numbering more than half the town's 1,300 population gathered to remember Retha Mae Shirley, 19, of La Grande.

    She was one of five firefighters killed June 21 when their van rolled while en route in Colorado to battle a wildfire.

    The service for Shirley was held in the Joseph High School gymnasium. The capacity crowd, seated in the stands of this basketball court like those on which Retha played, was silent.

    Retha Shirley, her father and his three brothers attended school in Joseph. Her grandfather still lives on the family place at the foot of the hill near the Prairie Creek Cemetery where Retha was buried next to her grandmother Retha attended La Grande High School, and she was studying nursing at the Oregon Institute of Technology in Klamath Falls.

    Retha's smile was remembered as one that drew others to her.

    In a video tribute, her smile was ever-present from infancy to adulthood. The photographs of Shirley's life included deer hunting and horseback riding in the nearby alpine mountains. The video and five large photo collages showed happy times with her family, including two brothers, and a smiling Retha in her soccer uniform.

    Maria Carmichael, who played soccer and basketball with Shirley, sang "I Will Remember You."

    Youthful music was dominant, beginning with Lynard Skynard's "Free Bird," a song that Shirley had preferred, said Tyson Schoenmoser, a special friend who had been with her for three years.

    She was "beautiful inside and out," he said at the memorial, "changing the world one person at a time. She had a passion for life. She wanted everybody to be happy."

    Saturday her youthful friends were somber. They seemed to arrive in groups. Three of her girlfriends moved to the microphone as a trio, two holding hands, then spoke individually with strained voices that trailed off to sobs.

    The silent tension was finally relieved, with some laughter when one schoolmate described some hair pulling with the friend, who is "...free as a bird now."

    Youthful vitality, strength and energy stood stilled inside the bright yellow fire-fighting shirts worn by some of the Grayback Forestry and U.S. Forest Service representatives. Scores of them formed an honor guard through which attendees filed. The honor guard stretched the lengh of the hall from the entrance to the gym.

    After the service, Retha passed through the honor guard carried by her uncles Russell, Ronnie and Mike Shirley and Carey and John Lewis, and her cousin Joel Lewis.

    Retha Shirley's fellow firefighters followed her and her family in the funeral procession, which included six fire engines, to Prairie Creek Cemetery.

  • CONTRACTOR STOPS USING VANS FOLLOWING FATAL COLORADO CRASH

    July 3, 2002 | No longer online

    A few Grayback Forestry crews are beginning to return to work, but the firefighters stationed in La Grande will remain idle for at least a few more days. Five Grayback firefighters were killed June 21 when a van transporting the crew from La Grande to the Hayman Fire rolled near the small town of Parachute, Colo. Eleven were riding in a 15-passenger Ford Econoline E-350 Super Duty van. Six were injured, and two, Anthony Kyle, 32, of La Grande, and Brandon Fiala, 20, of Twin Falls, Idaho, remain hospitalized.

    The driver has been charged in Colorado with multiple counts of careless driving. State police reported that the driver was reaching for something when the van drifted onto the median. When the driver tried to correct, the van rolled.

    In the wake of the accident, Grayback owner Michael Wheelock has suspended use of the 15-passenger vans and will transport crews in six-passenger trucks. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has said that extended vans have a roll-over rate three times that of regular vans. "Mike is eliminating anything that could possibly be a factor in safety," company spokeswoman Leslie Habetler said this morning. "He's not accusing Ford or anybody of anything. He's taking extra precautions."

    Crews in Southern Oregon are returning to work today, doing primarily project work, such as thinning, on public and private land, Habetler said. The crews from Southern Oregon and John Day are expected to be ready to return to fire lines as soon as Thursday. Habetler said she does not know when the La Grande crew will return to work.

    Although Grayback has "always had a policy on seat belts," one person will be designated in each rig to enforce that rule, Habetler said. Four of the five firefighters killed in the Colorado accident were not wearing seat belts.

    The time behind the wheel will be strictly enforced. When one person is driving, the driver must stop after 10 hours, and during the driving time must take 10-minute breaks every four hours and stop for lunch, she said. If two people are designated as drivers, they may be behind the wheel for a total of 12 hours.

    Other requirements include additional driving classes and random drug and alcohol tests for drivers. The company will also create safety committees and install hands-free cell phones in its rigs.

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Photos, Videos, & Tributes

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Contributors to this article: The Wildland Firefighter Foundation, Mike Wheelock

 

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