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When tree falls near Santiam Pass, drivers step up to clear path

Hundreds of trees have fallen on mountain highways around state

BEND, Ore. (KTVZ) -- Heavy snow fell in Oregon's mountains over the weekend, causing trees to fall across highways. In one such case, west of Santiam Pass, drivers didn't wait for ODOT, but stepped up to clear the road.

On Monday, NewsChannel 21 spoke with a Bend man who helped haul the downed tree near and Santiam Junction off the road on Sunday afternoon.

Attorney Bryan Donahue and his girlfriend were deciding which route to take on their way to Washington County for a court appearance. Donohue said he was aware of the dangerous road conditions near Mount Hood, and the other option was to drive through Santiam Pass.

That's when Donahue said they came across the downed tree, which had stopped about 20 to 30 cars in both directions.

"We were in line, cars were backed up, so when we saw the tree, we thought, 'Hey, let's see if we can do something about this,'" Donahue recalled.

Although he had not planned on using them during his trip, he happened to have ropes and other gear in the back of his truck. So Donahue and another driver got out of their trucks to attach the ropes to the tree and haul it off the road.

"I can't say I've ever towed a tree across a road before," Donahue said. "I'm used to pulling people out of ditches and stuff like that, but never a tree."

Another driver called it "amazing teamwork in the cold winter snow."

Donahue said in addition to the fallen trees, whiteout conditions and slick roads made it a difficult drive.

"The wind gusts would hit the snow drifts and you literally couldn't see the hood on your rig," he said. "You couldn't see a thing. You'd just have to stop, wait for it to pass and then keep going."

Holly Smith and her husband Earl, of La Pine, also drove over Santiam Pass to and from the coast, where they celebrated their 10th wedding anniversary.

Earl Smith said their trip to the coast on Friday went smoothly. It was the drive back to the La Pine/Lava Butte area through Santiam Pass that seemed more dangerous.

"The wind was coming, and you couldn’t even see the car in front of you," Smith said Monday. "You could feel the wind rocking the vehicle. Yesterday, we had people passing us 55 miles an hour, which is not the brightest thing to do."

Both Donohue and Smith said they want to warn drivers they should be prepared to drive in snowy conditions by having the proper tires and by driving slowly.

Central Oregon / Deschutes County / Jefferson County / Top Stories / Weather
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Rhea Panela

Rhea Panela is a multimedia journalist for NewsChannel 21. Learn more about Rhea here.



  1. It used to be were people parked on the side of the road up at the junction and had a sign for travelers that said they had hot coffee cookies and would put your chains on for you. Everybody that drove over the pass used to carry chains in a survival kit and a chainsaw ax and shovel. Then the state stepped in and made it illegal for assistance up on the pass…. so now it is illegal to advertise to help somebody put their chains on or to provide any other assistance. Nobody carries chainsaws anymore in the back of their $90,000 SUVs that they refuse to put chains on, because well…they have all wheel drive or they think that they’re just that much smarter than the snow and bad weather. I do not find it hard to believe at all that there were 30 to 40 cars in each direction all standing around looking like sheep in a storm

    1. It is not illegal to have a sign offering to install chains on the mountain – one vehicle was up there doing so yesterday. Most likely no coffee or cookies though….

    2. people are good – watch and you will see – all depends on what you are looking for – spend all your energy on “the state” and the pantheon of enemies you have conjured for yourself and that is what you will see

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