Jan. 9, 2019 — Highway 101 was closed for nearly an hour Saturday afternoon after a car crashed into a propane tank at the One Stop Market, located south of Florence on Highway 101.
At around 1:30 p.m., Florence resident Buzz Berry was driving his Ford Explorer southbound on the highway when the vehicle veered off the road, crashing through trees and shrubs before becoming airborne.
One Stop Market employee and Siuslaw News contributor Barry Sommer was working at the station when he heard the initial crash.
“I was sitting inside the corner of the building, on the north end, looking out the glass,” he said. “All of a sudden, I hear a crash, which I thought initially was one of our customers pulling a trailer. I looked up out the window and I see the car, the Ford Explorer, about eight feet off the ground and it was actually spinning. And I watch it crashing down in the parking lot, probably six feet from where I was sitting. If he was going just a few miles faster, it would have come right through the glass.”
The car hit the pavement, bounced once, and then crashed into the top of a commercial propane tank, which began to leak.
“The driver’s door immediately opens, and the driver stumbles out,” Sommer said. “He had a little blood on his nose. You can see where his face hit the windshield.”
A young customer who had seen the accident went rushing to help.
“[The driver] seemed a bit confused, and the first thing he wants to do is light a cigarette,” Sommer recalled.
But at that point, propane had started leaking and the cigarette could have caused an explosion.
“I ran back into the store, told another employee to call 911 and that there was a propane leak,” Sommer said. “I then immediately went through the store yelling, ‘Get out, get out!’ We went to the edge of the parking lot, waited five minutes, and then the police and Siuslaw Valley Fire showed up and pushed us about a quarter mile down [Highway] 101.”
When Oregon State Police troopers and Siuslaw Valley Fire and Rescue (SVFR) arrived on scene, they evacuated surrounding residences and buildings so the propane could be vented from the tank.
“When [the driver] was sitting down and the police were talking to him, all of a sudden, he passed out for two to three minutes,” Sommer said. “He came to, not worse for wear. The officers and Siuslaw Valley treated him with great respect. I was very impressed with their level of professionalism.”
Berry was transported to PeaceHealth Peace Harbor and was treated for minor injuries.
“Five hours later, he was back at the store, walking over,” Sommer said of Berry, who was a long-time customer of the store. “Seemed to be okay. A friend of his picked him up and they left.”
The crash is still under investigation, with speed or intoxicants being explored as a cause.
The propane tank has been removed and Sommer expects it to be replaced in a month’s time.
“It gives me pause as to whether or not I want to pump propane,” he said with a laugh. “I’ll tell you, it was just three minutes earlier that I was pumping a tank. If he had hit that tank and the store while pumping, I’d be dead. And there would have been a huge explosion. I’m extremely grateful. God was looking out for me.”