Tragedy on Stevens Pass: Unsafe highway kept open

 Three members of the Owen family waited more than a half-hour for responders to start extricating them from an SUV. Each person has been recovering slowly in the months since, though a spinal-cord injury means an uncertain healing process for one.

Three members of the Owen family waited more than a half-hour for responders to start extricating them from an SUV. Each person has been recovering slowly in the months since, though a spinal-cord injury means an uncertain healing process for one.

Seattle Times

March 26, 2013
By Alexa Vaughn
Twitter @alexavaughn
avaughn@seattletimes.com

After a grand fir about 125 feet tall snapped east of Stevens Pass and fell onto a Bothell family’s SUV on Dec. 21, officials at the state transportation department spoke of the accident as a rare and tragic occurrence that would have been hard to foresee.

Tragic because the tree killed parents Tim Owen, 58, and Cheryl Reed Owen, 56, as they drove with their family on Highway 2 to a holiday getaway in Leavenworth. Their two daughters 

and son-in-law, all in their 20s, were nearly crushed to death as well. Only their son
walked away from the accident with minor injuries.

Rare because, on average, a fatal falling-tree accident happens in the state only once per year, if that often. And, as far as transportation-department supervisors could remember, falling trees had never before posed a danger great enough for them to close Stevens Pass.

But recently released records show the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) had been advised the day before the Dec. 21 accident that trees were falling along Highway 2 east of Stevens Pass. Moreover, transportation officials initially refused to close the same stretch of highway the day after the accident, despite being asked repeatedly to do so by the State Patrol.

The same afternoon the department declined to shut the highway, a second car from the Seattle area — this one with five people — was struck by a falling tree about a mile from where the grand fir crashed down on the Owen vehicle the day before.