I-5 fatality reinforces need for citizen involvement

Thursday morning wasn't the first time an alleged drunken driver has slipped past the lookout of patrolling police, and it very likely won't be the last.

The consequence of 32-year-old Richard Webster Scott going undetected Thursday after being reported to police as a drunk driver was fatal for an Ashland woman traveling southbound on Interstate 5 near Phoenix when he hit her head-on.

And the incident underlines the reliance police have on the public to report suspicious motorists.

The lone Oregon State Police trooper on duty in the Grants Pass area Thursday morning searched for Scott after receiving reports from Grants Pass police that their patrols were unable to locate him, said OSP Lt. Gregg Hastings. But with little more than a license-plate number, place of residence and hundreds of miles of open road to patrol, the trooper's chances of finding Scott turned out to be slim.

The trooper searched northbound Interstate 5 near Grants Pass, the most likely route between where Scott was last reported — the Arco gas station on Terry Lane in Grants Pass — and Scott's Grants Pass home, Hastings said.

Police didn't know that Scott, who was reported to police by an Arco employee at about 2:30 a.m., was headed south.

About 30 minutes after Scott was reported to police, he had somehow turned around and was driving the wrong way on I-5 near Phoenix, where he slammed his 2003 Dodge Grand Caravan head-on into 58-year-old Karen Lee Greenstein's 2006 Honda Civic. Greenstein, a 911 dispatcher who worked for Emergency Communications of Southern Oregon for more than 20 years, was traveling home from work.

Hastings said the results of Scott's toxicology tests are still a few weeks out, but "the initial investigation indicates that alcohol was a contributing factor."

Jennifer McCulloch, the 26-year-old Arco employee who called police to report Scott, had no doubt the man was impaired.

"He couldn't talk, he couldn't walk. I don't even know how he was functioning," she said.

On Friday evening, Scott was in serious condition in the intensive care unit at Oregon Health & Science University in Portland, where he was transferred from Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center Thursday, according to OHSU spokeswoman Mirabai Vogt.

Shortly before the crash — about a half-hour after McCulloch's 911 call in Grants Pass — Scott's van was believed to have been seen sideways on the southbound Talent off-ramp, Hastings said.

Had the OSP trooper on duty received information that Scott was traveling south on the interstate between Grants Pass and Medford, tragedy might have been averted.

"It's really important — and we stress that every day — people be alert and report possible impaired or dangerous and reckless drivers," Hastings said. "People are our eyes out there on the road, too."

Reports of impaired or erratic motorists help police, who are usually trying to find a moving target, Hastings said.

"If we have someone available, we do the best we can ... unfortunately many times we aren't able to locate it," Hastings said, noting that the trooper on duty Thursday morning had the responsibility of patrolling Highway 199 to the Oregon-California border, Interstate 5 between Grants Pass and the Siskiyou Pass, other secondary state byways and even county roads in the area.

Reports from the public lead to many arrests involving impaired drivers, Hastings said, though it is not out of the ordinary for those reports to turn up a sober driver.

Following a report of a suspicious driver, "it would be fruitless to drive at high rates of speed to overtake that vehicle," Hastings said, citing safety concerns. "We get a number of driver-related complaints ... we don't necessarily determine them initially as possible DUII drivers."

Oregon State Police receive about 250,000 traffic complaints a year around the state, but how many of those calls involve suspected impaired drivers was unavailable Friday, Hastings said.

Thursday morning's incident looked to be a local matter based on the information passed on to OSP from Grants Pass police at about 2:38 a.m., Hastings said.

Grants Pass police could not be reached for comment on the incident.

Police couldn't have guessed Scott would drive the opposite direction from his home, and by the time the report of a vehicle similar to Scott's came in later that night near Talent, it was too late, Hastings said.

OSP is asking any witnesses who saw Scott's van prior to the crash to call the Southern Command Center dispatch at 541-776-6111.

Reach reporter Sam Wheeler at 541-776-4471 or swheeler@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/swhlr.

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