Written by Albany Tribune
September 1, 2011
Ten years ago, a drowsy driver forever changed the lives of three families and two law enforcement agencies when he struck three police officers helping a family in their disabled van along Interstate 5 south of Salem.
This tragic incident and the lives of those involved were remembered with the posting of Oregon’s first roadside memorial sign honoring fallen officers following the passage of House Bill 3039 during the 2011 Legislative session.
On September 1, 2011, Oregon’s first roadside memorial sign was displayed along the northbound lanes of Interstate 5 near milepost 243 in remembrance of Oregon State Police (OSP) Senior Trooper Maria Mignano and Albany Police Officer Jason Hoerauf who were killed September 4, 2001 by a 19-year old driver who fell asleep, drifted off the roadway and struck the two officers and OSP Sergeant John Burright. The three officers were standing outside of two OSP patrol cars while assisting a family whose van became disabled on the freeway shoulder. Burright, who Officer Hoerauf looked toward as his mentor, was critically injured and later retired from OSP due to injuries for which he receives long-term care for.
“This dark day not only left a state trooper and police officer dead but also brought an early end to the career of an outstanding state police sergeant,” said Olson.
Since the 1880′s, Oregon has lost 174 police officers in the line of duty. Of those, Olson says 11 incidents dating back to 1960 are being considered for placement of roadside memorial signs along Oregon roads.
This tragedy is also a reminder of why national crackdowns during holiday periods by police officers stepping up enforcement to prevent and reduce injuries and deaths on our highways are so important. Starting 6:00 p.m. Friday, September 2, police officers in Oregon are increasing enforcement efforts toward impaired, fatigued, distracted and other dangerous drivers. The Labor Day Holiday period enforcement effort runs through 11:59 p.m., Monday, September 5.
“Don’t forget why your troopers, deputies and city police officers are working every day to keep our communities and highways safer for everyone,” said OSP Superintendent Chris Brown. “Remember when you drive by this sign, real lives were lost and forever changed trying to help people who needed help. Stay alert, be well-rested, and drive sober and safe not only this holiday weekend but every time.”
During last year’s Labor Day Holiday period, September 3 – 6, one person died in a traffic crash on Oregon roads. According to ODOT’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System (FARS), this was the third time in the last 40 years in Oregon that there was only a single fatality during this holiday period. Historically, the Labor Day Holiday weekend is the second deadliest major holiday weekend in Oregon and alcohol is a known contributing factor in over half of these fatalities.
According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, alcohol-impaired-driving fatalities accounted for 38 percent of all nationwide motor vehicle fatalities throughout the Labor Day holiday. A nationwide campaign aimed at removing impaired drivers from the road started August 19 and is running through September 5.
OSP troopers reported 67 DUII arrests during last year’s Labor Day Holiday weekend. The Springfield Area Command office made 17 DUII arrests, a quarter of all OSP arrests during the holiday weekend. Troopers investigated no fatal traffic crashes.
The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) supports Oregon’s law enforcement agencies as they work together to crackdown on impaired drivers and keep highways safe. ODOT workers help police officers respond to highway emergencies and major traffic crash scenes.
“Like OSP, we’ve lost employees who were working on the highways, and we hope these tragedies never occur again,” said Paul Mather, Deputy Director for Highways at ODOT. “We encourage everyone to be alert, drive sober and pay attention to the important job of driving safely.”
The Oregon State Police, Oregon State Sheriff’s Association, Oregon Association of Chiefs of Police, and Oregon Department of Transportation offer the following safety reminders for holiday travel:
Everyone is urged to play an important part in keeping our highways and city streets safe by immediately reporting aggressive, dangerous, and intoxicated drivers to the Oregon State Police at 1-800-24DRUNK (1-800-243-7865) or call 9-1-1.