PORTLAND, Ore. — Culver Fire Department Capt. Steve Roe rushed to the site of a car-train collision, only to find that his wife and three of his four children had died in the crash.
Roe’s 10-year-old son, Ethan, was the only one in the car to survive Wednesday’s accident. He was hospitalized in fair condition Thursday with cuts and broken bones, according to a nursing supervisor at Redmond’s Central Oregon Community Hospital.
"Capt. Roe got out of the rescue rig and realized it was his family, it was his whole family," said Culver police chief Lee Farrester. The accident scene was "the worst car-train fatality I’ve been on in my time," he said.
Roe’s three other children — Jason, 15, Tina, 14, and 6-year-old Devin — were pronounced dead at the scene, as was his wife, Sandy, 32.
The Roes’ car slid on an icy mountain road and into an empty Burlington Northern freight train, which was going about 35 mph, Farrester said.
"The witness said she started braking about halfway down the hill and kept pumping the brakes, but she couldn’t stop in time," Farrester said.
The train was going slower than normal because of the bad weather, Jefferson County Sheriff’s officials said. The conductor tried to brake but couldn’t stop the mile-long, 1,800-ton train.
Culver, population 800, is a close-knit central Oregon community about 30 miles north of Bend. Farrester said almost everyone in Culver knew the Roes through church, school or the volunteer fire department.
The first rescuer to enter the car was a youth pastor for one of the Roe boys. Others knew Sandy Roe from her job as an educational assistant for autistic children at the Culver School District or through her husband’s work with the volunteer fire crew, Farrester said.
"The fire department were all members of one big family. A lot of the firefighters are having a really hard time with this," he said. "So many of the people are affected, it’s like a family here. We’re all close."
Farrester said he, too, is close friends with Roe and often teases him for parking in Farrester’s parking spot.
"I had so much to do today and it all changed at a moment’s notice," he said.
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