(Pendleton, Oregon October 12, 2016)
The driver and sole occupant of a white pickup truck was pronounced dead at the scene after attempting to cross Union Pacific Railroad tracks at the dangerous and unguarded intersection of White Road (CR 918, merged with Cayuse River Road) on the Umatilla Tribal Reservation about 10 miles east of Pendleton, OR Wednesday afternoon at about 5:30 P.M., PDT. The driver was struck by one of a daily average of 20 UPRR trains that use the unsignalized road/rail crossing daily at maximum allowable speeds of 45 mph.
Witnesses extricated the victim and attempted CPR, but to no avail as the driver, who was later identified as Toshihiko Murata, 53, a Blue Mountain Community College, was already deceased from the trauma of the collision. The train impacted the pickups passenger side. Murata and his wife had just signed papers to purchase a new home on the Umatilla Reservation, and the victim was on his way back to the college for a meeting of the BMCC Board of Education when the tragedy took place. He doubtfully ever saw or heard the train approaching.
We really need crossing arms put in there, Gail Gorbett Wilson told the East Oregonian newspaper. It is a blind corner from the west (the direction from which the train in Wednesdays tragedy approached). More than once, we stop, look both ways, look back and theres a train! It is virtually certain that if this crossing was equipped with lights and gates, this collision would not have happened. Both Union Pacific and Operation Lifesaver know that lights and gates are the most effective type of protection at railroad crossings. Studies that have been conducted over fifty years ago confirm that lights and gates offer the ability to drastically reduce the number of vehicle/train accidents by as much as 96%.
Murata was the schools Associate Vice President for of Institution Effectiveness said BMCC President Camille Preus, who described the victim as a wonderful man.
He was a person who kept his own counsel, continued the obviously downhearted chief executive as she spoke to an East Oregonian staff writer Thursday. He was quiet. He spoke when he had something to offer.
In a message to all BMCC personnel, Vice President of Public Relations Casey White-Zollman said, in part, We are proud to call him a colleague and a friend. He will be greatly missed.
Muratas wife, Mary Jane Bagwell, is BMCCs director of college prep programs, and both she and her husband had previously worked for President Preus in Salem, OR, where the BMCC chief had served as Oregon State Director of Community Colleges and Workforce Development.
Umatilla Tribal fire and police were assisted by the Pendleton Fire Dept. in responding to the accident.