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Pacific community reeling after crash kills students

ODOT officials plan roundabout for intersection at 47 and Verboort


by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JILL REHKOPF SMITH - Driver Cory Jensen slammed on the brakes when a four-door Hyundai pulled in front of his Fisher Farms truck, causing it to skid until it finally came to a stop broadside across Highway 47, with the crumpled car behind it.Two Pacific University freshmen died Monday morning in a horrendous crash where Highway 47 intersects with Northwest Verboort Road.

“I am deeply saddened to report the tragic loss of two of our undergraduate students in the College of Arts & Sciences earlier today,” Pacific President Lesley Hallick wrote in a statement late that evening.

Kiden Esther Dilla, 18, and Ayan Mohamed Osman, 19, were traveling to Pacific together from their Northwest Portland homes when their 2002 Hyundai pulled out directly in front of a Fisher Farms box truck traveling north on Highway 47 at roughly 50 miles per hour. They appear to have died instantly, according to emergency responders who found both dead at the scene.

According to Oregon State Police Lt. Gregg Hastings, Dilla had been westbound on Verboort Road and was waiting at the stop sign when she inexplicably pulled onto the highway just a few feet in front of the 32,000-pound truck, driven by Cory Jordan, 44, of Gaston. Jordan was not physically hurt.

According to Hastings, the pattern of skid marks on the asphalt indicates Jordan had no time to brake before Dilla pulled in front of him. Everyone involved was wearing a seat belt.

A post on the Facebook page of Pacific’s Black Student Union calls the teens “two of the greatest dedicated members of the BSU today” and credits them with a “major effort to keep this club alive and striving into the strong union that it is today. We love you and miss you very much. You guys will always be a part of our hearts.”by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: JILL REHKOPF SMITH - Oregon State Police interview truck driver Cody Jensen and study Mondays crash site not far from a roadside memorial for 16-year-old Kaylee Tawzer, who died in a remarkably similar accident in September 2007.

According to sources at Pacific, neither woman had declared a major, but both were interested in public health and biology.

Hallick’s statement noted that Osman has a sister who is a graduate student in Pacific’s College of Education.

Osman, who celebrated her birthday March 30, was described by friends on Facebook as beautiful, smart, charismatic and funny.

Dilla appears to be the daughter of Sam Dilla, who was active in the Portland community of refugees from South Sudan, where he himself had to hide in “the bush” as a child to escape violent attacks on his village.

One friend described Kiden on Facebook as “Fearless in anything you do, yet you hold a heart with pure kindness, a smile that is contagious and a mind of a genius.”

Hastings said there are any number of reasons Kiden might have become distracted and failed to check left before pulling in front of the truck.

From January 2008 to July 2013, the Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) recorded 27 accidents within 200 feet of the intersection, causing 37 injuries. But this is the first fatality since 16-year-old Kaylee Tawzer pulled in front of a northbound fuel truck Sept. 14, 2007, as she attempted to turn left from Verboort Road onto Highway 47, just like Dilla apparently planned to do.

Tawzer’s death sparked complaints about the intersection and calls for a traffic light.

But “adding a traffic signal on a high-speed highway causes its own problems,” said ODOT Spokesman Don Hamilton. When ODOT added a traffic signal on Highway 26 near Sandy a decade ago, he said, “the number of crashes increased.”

So instead, ODOT lowered the speed limit and installed flashing lights with warning signs on Highway 47 and on Verboort Road.

In the wake of Monday morning’s double fatality, Banks City Councilor Christy Greagor started a Facebook page named “Highway 47 and Verboort signal needed.”

But ODOT spokesman Lou Torres said transportation experts have a better idea: a roundabout. “Probably a two-lane roundabout because they can carry so much traffic,” he said.

ODOT has added the roundabout to its “safety project list,” which makes it a priority, Torres said, although it’s competing for funds with more than 100 other projects across the state.

Torres can’t say when it will happen or how much it will cost, but “our traffic section is starting to talk about it...we are going to be trying to develop some kind of a roundabout.”