By SUSAN SCHELL
Two 16-year-old Brookings-Harbor High School students were involved in a fatal car accident along the south bank of the Chetco River Sunday afternoon.
The driver, Steve Morris, was pronounced dead at the scene of the accident. His passenger, Travis Humphrey, remained in a coma Tuesday in the intensive care unit at a Portland Hospital.
Curry County Sheriff's Deputy John Ward said his department was alerted to the accident around 3:45 p.m. Sunday. The report was of a single car accident on South Bank Chetco River Road about three miles up from Highway 101.
Ward arrived on the scene along with Deputy Dustin Watson.
According to Ward, the boys were traveling up river in a four-seat, two-door Acura when the driver lost control, crossed the center divider and shot out over an embankment impacting a tree.
A couple of swimmers on the north side of the river heard the crash. They swam across the river and climbed up the embankment. When they saw the car they walked up the road and flagged down a motorist who called 9-1-1.
Ward could not comment on the exact cause of death of the driver, but said, "He was deceased on arrival. It appeared to me that he had massive head trauma."
Ward said both teenagers had their seat belts on, but suffered from the blunt force when the vehicle left the embankment and wrapped around the tree.
"The passenger was unresponsive and unconscious, and had to be assisted with breathing," he said. "There was no evidence of alcohol use."
Emergency crews arrived soon after, and the Jaws of Life, an extraction tool, was used to cut the car open so paramedics could reach the surviving passenger.
"The position of the car in the tree and the rugged terrain made it really difficult," Ward said. "The car was so mangled it took the fire department two hours to free the injured passenger."
Humphrey was transported by ambulance to Sutter Coast Hospital in Crescent City. He was then flown to Portland in a Cal-Ore Life Flight airplane.
His parents are currently staying at the hospital. Travis' father, Mike Humphrey, said his son suffered severe head trauma, two broken legs and is battling pneumonia. He was still in a coma as of Tuesday, on total life support systems.
"He hasn't moved at all," Mike said. "They did surgery on his legs and they'll deal with the other two problems until they're under control. It's just a day-to-day situation."
A memorial service for Morris was held at the crash site by his family and friends Monday morning (See related story, Page 1A). Most of the students still seemed to be in a daze, having just learned of the accident.
Morris was remembered by his peers as being a good friend and a natural athlete.
"Anybody who knew Steve thought he was a great guy," said Kenny Witherby.
Deputy Ward, being one of the first people to arrive on the accident scene, attended Monday's service to explain what had happened.
At that time, authorities could only speculate that the vehicle was traveling too fast for the road conditions and that the driver lost control.
However, later that day, news developed that there may have been another car on the scene.
Curry County Sheriff's Lt. Allen Boice told The Pilot a local citizen who lives on the South Bank reported seeing two cars, a blue one and a red one, speeding up the road Sunday. Shortly thereafter, that person saw police vehicles going the same way. Morris' Acura was blue.
"The witness came forth Monday afternoon," said Boice. "We didn't know there was another vehicle involved."
Based on the description of the vehicles by the witness, sheriff's deputies detained 22-year-old Jeremy Allen in connection with the accident. Allen was arrested on Monday and booked into the Curry County Jail on a charge of criminally negligent homicide.
Boice said the Curry County District Attorney would review the case and make a decision.
"This was an extremely serious event," Boice said. "The seriousness warranted an arrest."
However, on Tuesday District Attorney Charlie Steak asked the Sheriff's Office to release Allen pending further investigation of the case. Allen has been cited for reckless driving and is scheduled to appear in court in August.
"The district attorney's office will not charge Allen with criminally negligent homicide on a factual basis," Steak said.
"We don't have enough to keep him," Boice said. "The investigation will help us determine what Allen's role was, and whether he had any responsibility in the accident."
Boice explained that one of the key points to uncovering the events leading up to the accident was determining the speed of the victim's vehicle.
"We need to find out when the car left the road and how far away from the road it traveled. Also, where the car hit the tree and how high the tree was off the ground. This will give us the approximate speed of the vehicle."
An accident reconstruction specialist from Central Point in Medford will visit the scene to aid in the investigation.
Morris' funeral is scheduled for Friday, July 5, at the Church of the Nazarene at 1 p.m. Visitation will be Friday morning at 10 a.m. at Litty's Funeral Home, 517 Railroad St.