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'Bam! The truck hit us, and life just flashed before my eyes'

Patrick Sheehan cap.jpg
Patrick Sheehan Jr. speaks to KATU on Tuesday after he survived a tractor-trailer crashing into his disabled SUV parked along Interstate 84 on Monday evening. (KATU Photo)

Patrick Sheehan Jr. said a tractor-trailer colliding with his SUV on Interstate 84 on Monday evening was the culmination of a very bad trip.

His 1995 Chevy Tahoe had run out of gas on a return trip from Spokane to deliver a pool table that a customer didn’t want.

Sheehan had no money. He tried to sell tools to buy gas, but he had to pull over to the shoulder in the westbound lanes of the freeway when his SUV had finally used the last drop.

Sheehan said that a friend was just five minutes from bringing him gas when the tractor-trailer smashed into his SUV.

“And Bam! The truck hit us, and life just flashed before my eyes,” Sheehan said Tuesday after he and his passenger survived the ordeal. “I felt the impact. The inside of my truck exploded.”

He and his passenger weren’t seriously hurt.

Oregon State Police said the driver of the tractor-trailer was checking her side mirror to change from the freeway’s slow lane to its fast lane around 5 p.m. when she swerved right and hit Sheehan’s SUV, went through a guardrail, down an embankment and landed partially submerged in the Columbia River.

The back end of Sheehan’s SUV was mangled.

“I saw the driver go by and go into the water,” Sheehan said. “And I knew she didn’t mean it. So I couldn’t be angry with her, and I was wondering if she was OK.

A passer-by helped the truck’s driver out of her cab. She was taken to the hospital but also was not seriously hurt. The truck belonged to a Canadian trucking company and its driver was from Quebec.

“If that truck would have been six inches more to the right – maybe even two inches – we were up and over the guardrail and there was big rocks down below us – we were in the water,” Sheehan said.

He knows he, his passenger and the truck driver could have all died in the crash.

“Taking it minute by minute. I am not thinking an hour in advance because you don’t know how much you have, how much time you have left,” Sheehan said.

The tractor-trailer is still partially in the river. According to the Oregon Department of Transportation, it isn’t leaking any fuel into the water and a small oil sheen quickly dissipated. But there’s a protective log boom around the wreck.

Starting at 6 a.m. Wednesday, crews plan on pulling the truck out of the water. It may take 12 hours. At least one westbound lane will be shut down.

They plan to rip the top off the fully loaded trailer, remove several pounds of rolled oats it was carrying and then drain the truck’s fuel tanks before pulling it up the riverbank and onto the freeway.