It was just a patch of slush lurking at milepost 40 on Highway 82. But when Marty Steven’s Honda CRV’s rear wheels hit it on Friday morning, the normally reliable all-wheel drive vehicle spun out of control, struck the guard rail and plummeted into the Wallowa River. The side airbags deployed. And fortunately for Marty and her two dogs, the CRV came to rest on its wheels in the shallow, icy cold river.
Even more fortunately, neither Stevens nor her two dogs, an Airedale and Labrodoodle, were hurt. But they were about 25 vertical feet below the roadway, in a spot difficult to see. Stevens left her two dogs in the vehicle, and then hiked up the steep embankment to summon help.
“I was driving really carefully, staying in the bare-pavement wheel tracks,” Stevens said. “Then I hit a patch of icy slush, and the next thing I remember we were in the river. It all happened really fast.”
Oregon State Police, Wallowa Fire Department and the Wallowa Ambulance responded to her call. “That’s one nice thing about living in a small community,” Stevens said. “You know all your rescuers by their first names.”
Stevens, a retired teacher who taught both social studies and Driver’s Education for Union, Baker and Wallowa Education Service Districts, noted that her misfortune should warn other Wallowa County drivers that winter is not over yet.
Serious accidents have a history on Highway 82 along the river and Minam Grade. In the last, decade, two people have died in crashes there. Others were transported by Life-Flight or ambulance with serious injuries. And while the Oregon Department of Transportation plans to complete a $6.7 million project to improve the sharp, 25 mph corner on Minam Grade this year, the curving 10-mile stretch along the Wallowa River will remain unchanged.
Especially in the winter, that part of the highway gets little sun, and is often cold, foggy, and wet. “Coming back from the District playoff games Friday night the road was really icy and pretty foggy,” said long-time truck driver Del Stanley. “Winter isn’t over yet.”