PORTLAND, Ore. — It was a wild morning on the bridge that connects Oregon and Washington after a van slammed into the back of a construction truck and burst into flames with two women and a baby inside.
Now, one of the workers who rushed to help is sharing his story.
Chad Worthington works for Portland-based D & H Flagging, Inc., and was on the Interstate Bridge on Thursday morning in a truck designed to protect work crews by absorbing the impact of a crash.
Two southbound lanes were closed for electrical work and a routine inspection.
Worthington never thought he’d actually be hit – until he looked in his mirror around 3:30 a.m. and saw a van coming up behind him fast.
“I seen it coming up really fast as it crossed into our work zone, so I put my head back in the seat and relaxed and tried to brace for the impact because it was coming at me really fast,” Worthington told KPTV. “It was scary, seeing that car come at me at that speed.”
He guesses the driver slammed into him at a speed of nearly 60 mph.
When he got out, he heard a woman in the van yelling.
“She started screaming, ‘My baby, my baby, my baby,’ and that’s when I grabbed my phone, called 911 real quick, then all of a sudden the van caught on fire,” he said.
He described what happened next as intense and chaotic.
Worthington said he and other workers from the electrical company and ODOT grabbed fire extinguishers to try and put out the blaze.
He said a young woman was driving, her mother was in the passenger seat and her baby was in the back.
But he couldn’t believe what he said happened next.
“The mom of the child said, ‘I can’t handle this, I’m out of here,’ and jumped the jersey barrier and started walking southbound on the bridge,” he said. “She walked by another one of my co-workers, and she was just walking casually, like nothing ever happened.”
But her mother and baby were still in the burning car.
Worthington said workers used their fire extinguishers to break the windows, and one man badly cut his arm in the process by reaching in past the broken glass.
Someone pulled the grandmother out of the car by her arm, while Worthington and his co-worker, Daniel, focused on the baby, who was secured in a car seat.
“I tried to reach my hand in to the front door because it was starting to be engulfed in flames and smoke, and it started getting kind of real. Like, that baby is in danger,” he recalled.
He said he struggled to free the buckles on the car seat, but finally got the baby girl free.
“[I] grabbed the baby, pulled it out, handed it to Daniel and Daniel and the grandma walked away from the van and then a few – probably a minute, or a few minutes after that – the actual van exploded,” he said.
He said the grandmother and baby were taken away in an ambulance.
He’s a little sore himself from the impact of the crash and spent most of the morning being checked out at a hospital.
It’s not clear where the mother went, and Portland police said no arrests have been made in the case. The crash remains under investigation.
Looking back on it now, Worthington can’t believe the mother left the scene and said the rest of her family is lucky.
“They’re very fortunate to be alive right now,” he said. “Very lucky.”