Train engineer sights car in icy slough along I-84


News staff writer

February 21, 2007

The remains of a missing Hood River man were discovered inside a submerged vehicle along Interstate 84 on Friday afternoon.

The body of Ronnie Eaton, 36, was recovered from a slough off the eastbound lanes of the freeway between Mosier and Hood River. A medical examiner determined that he had drowned after his blue Honda Accord landed upside down in about 5 feet of icy water.

“He likely became unconscious during the accident but the air bag had deployed properly and the car frame was in pretty good shape. If it weren’t for the water, he would probably be here today,” said Police Detective Andy Frasier.

The conductor of a passing Union Pacific train located the vehicle about 3:15 p.m. on Feb. 16. According to reports, the railroad employee thought that he had glimpsed metal below the icy pool on Feb. 1 and had taken a closer look during a return trip.

Frasier said Oregon State Police Senior Trooper Dan DeHaven and Hood River County Sheriff’s Deputies Matt English and Juan Pulido were the first to arrive at the scene. They ran the numbers from a car license plate that was found on the ground near the wreck.

When dispatch confirmed moments later that the vehicle was owned by Eaton, divers from the Skamania County Sheriff’s Office were called for help. They dove into the murky water with flashlights and found Eaton buckled in the driver’s seat. J&L Towing from Hood River was asked to pull the car out of the water. Eaton’s body was then turned over to Andersen’s Tribute Center for burial arrangements.

His funeral will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday at the Church of Christ, 1512 Tucker Road.

Eaton was last seen at his place of employment on Jan. 25. Frasier said the last call made on his cell phone was at 11:15 p.m. — and then there was no further activity.

Friends and family members organized a 75-person search along county roads two weeks later. They were concerned that there had been no movement on his bank account or credit cards. Everyone who knew Eaton contended that it was out of character for him not to not show up for work — or to leave town without notifying anyone.

Fliers with the missing man’s picture and physical description were posted on bulletin boards and in business windows throughout town.

Frasier worked with OSP to reconstruct the fatal accident on Monday. DeHaven said that excessive speed was a factor in the accident. He said that Eaton’s car traveled 400 feet from the time that it left the eastbound lane of the freeway until it landed in the water.

Frasier said it appears, based on a debris trail and marks on the ground, that Eaton’s car went into a spin. And was turned sideways when it became airborne and then flipped after encountering the railroad tracks.

Frasier said the results of toxicology tests will be available in a few weeks to determine if alcohol played a role in the crash.

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