Photo contributed by Oregon State Police A flagger died Tuesday night on Highway 11 near Athena whe
Road construction zone flagger Tyresa Monaghan of Kennewick died Tuesday night after a vehicle struck her on Highway 11 near Athena. Oregon State Police arrested Leman Louis Bledsoe, 76, of Milton-Freewater, for the crime. He now faces manslaughter and other charges.
The fatality occurred around 8:30 p.m. near milepost 16, where a crew was paving, according to Tom Strandberg, the regional spokesperson with the Oregon Department of Transportation. He said Monaghan, as not an ODOT employee but worked for a Shamrock Paving Co., a subcontractor out of Washington.
Multiple agencies responded, and Oregon State Police Sgt. Lisa Slater from the Pendleton command is leading the investigation. State police reported Monaghan stopped a vehicle when Bledsoe came into the work zone driving a silver 2005 Chrysler minivan. The Chrysler side-swiped the stopped vehicle, then struck Monaghan.
Umatilla County sheriff’s Sgt. John Shafer said he received an initial report from the scene. After hitting Monaghan, the minivan continued north and hit a second vehicle at the intersection with Wildhorse Road.
Bledsoe tried to get away, Shafer said, but a road construction worker pulled a water truck around to block the escape.
Shafer also said a doctor and his wife were in the first vehicle the minivan hit. That doctor rushed to aid Monaghan, but she died at the scene. Monaghan was 49.
An ambulance took Bledsoe to St. Anthony Hospital, Pendleton. Following medical treatment, state police hauled Bledsoe to the Umatilla County Jail, Pendleton.
The Umatilla County District Attorney’s Office charged Bledsoe just before 11 a.m. Wednesday with the following: first-degree manslaughter; failure to perform the duties of a driver (one count for property damage, one for the death); driving under the influence of intoxicants (alcohol); recklessly endangerment of highway workers; two counts of recklessly endangering another person (for the doctor and his wife), and reckless driving.
State court records show Circuit Judge Jon Lieuallen set Bledsoe’s bail at $750,000. The next proceeding in the case is a probable cause hearing Wednesday, Aug. 22.
Court records show Bledsoe has convictions in 2015 in Umatilla County for menacing and second-degree criminal mischief, both misdemeanors. And Milton-Freewater police arrested Bledsoe last July for second-degree assault, menacing, reckless endangering, harassment and second-degree disorderly conduct.
District Attorney Dan Primus said his office is checking Bledsoe’s background for criminal history. That can show whether an individual has a pattern of DUII cases, for example, and helps establish criteria for releasing someone from jail.
State court records show a Leman Louis Bledsoe with a birth year of 1941 served five years probation for a 1987 conviction for attempted murder in Multnomah County. Primus said he could not confirm if that case and the manslaughter case involve the same defendant, but this is the kind of information his office works to verify.
Monaghan’s death marks the 12th fatality on Eastern Oregon state roads in the span of a week:
• Holden Martin, 19, of Northport, Washington, died in Wednesday, Aug. 8, on Highway 201 in Ontario in a multi-vehicle crash involving a large farm implement.
• Victor Dunkelberger, 33, of Rocklin, California, died Saturday in a head-on crash on Highway 95 in Malheur County.
• Mitildit Lako, 36, of Elmwood Park, Illinois, died Sunday evening on Interstate 84 one mile from Baker City. He was the passenger in a van that stopped or was going slow in the right lane when a semi-trailer rammed it. Lako was not wearing a seatbelt, and the impact ejected him from the van. He died at the scene.
• Eight people — including five children — died Monday morning in a head-on crash on Highway 78 in Harney County.
Strandberg with ODOT said he could not remember when so many deaths occurred in such a short time on state roads. Fatal crashes had been on the decline in Oregon, he said, but the trend reversed in recent years.
Data from ODOT’s Crash Analysis and Reporting Unit shows the following figures for fatal crashes statewide: 305 in 2012; 292 in 2013; 321 in 2014; 410 in 2015; and 448 in 2016, the last year the state has available information.
The number of people who died from those crashes also increased, from 312 dead in 2013 to 498 in 2016.
Strandberg reminded drivers to stay vigilant and alert, don’t drive distracted and to take precautions, such as pulling over to rest.