UKIAH - A contract mail truck slid off Highway 395 about 5:30 p.m. April 14, dumping the driver and a trailer full of mail into Camas Creek three miles south of Ukiah.
Hal Arbogast was headed north with mail from Grant County when he rounded a bend and drove into heavy hail, said Jim Blanchet, the owner of P&N Trucking in Canyon City. The truck left the road and landed on the passenger side in the center of the creek, which is high with spring runoff.
Arbogast, who was not injured, popped his seatbelt and climbed out to sit on the cab. He waited for an hour before someone stopped and threw him a rope so he could safely wade to shore.
"Hal learned how to drive up and down these narrow, twisty roads," Blanchet said.
He stood by on Tuesday morning while Dave Duncan of Duncan's Truck and Equipment Repair in Mt. Vernon attached a cable to the mail truck.
Bystanders at the scene commented that they had seen envelopes and a package swept downstream toward the North Fork John Day River.
Peter Hass, a U.S. Postal Service spokesman in Vancouver, Wash., confirmed that some mail had gotten wet and some had been lost while righting the truck. Employees from the Pendleton Post Office spent Tuesday afternoon recovering mail from the creek. The mail will go to Pendleton, where it will be dried and sent on to the addressee or, if that address is unreadable, returned to the sender.
"We take great pains to recover mail and get it on its way," Hass said. "If people are concerned about an important piece of mail, like a bill or tax return, they might want to follow up with a phone call."
Hass added that the Postal Service has contacted both the IRS and the Oregon Department of Revenue about the accident. He recommended that people contact their local post office with further questions.
The truck was carrying mail from post offices in Bridgeport, Burns, John Day, Seneca, Canyon City, Dale, Fox, Long Creek, Prairie City, Mount Vernon, Dayville, Monument, Kimberly, Unity, Hereford and Bates.
Violent hailstorms pounded the Ukiah area Monday evening for more than an hour, with hail up to 3/8-inch in diameter.
Dave Duncan of Mt. Vernon ran a wrecker with Chance and Colt Finley and Isaac Stinnett flagging traffic. Jim Blanchet, contractor for the mail truck, credited Duncan and his crew for rescuing more mail than anyone could have expected. He voiced appreciation for all of the people who helped.
"We probably got three quarters of the mail out of the truck that was in there. We saved a lot of it, more than we had a right to, given the conditions," Blanchet said.
Volunteers with Oregon Department of Transportation and the Forest Service helped salvage mail. Post office employees Kelly McKague, Dennis Linder and Dennis Lien also assisted at the scene.
Driver Hal Arbogast escaped with minor injuries. He was stranded on top of the truck, wet and cold, for almost an hour until a Pendleton ambulance rescued him, Blanchet said. Duncan drove Arbogast home to Mt. Vernon.
"The main thing is Hal didn't get hurt," Blanchet said.
The main mail-delivery truck is still on the road.
Lee Farren is a correspondent for the East Oregonian newspaper in Pendleton. This story contains additional reporting from staff of the Blue Mountain Eagle.
Got mail? Bring found items to local post offices
JOHN DAY - Postal service officials throughout Eastern Oregon request that anyone finding mail located along Camas Creek return the items to the nearest post office or contact their local postmaster.
An accident involving a highway contract route truck occurred on April 14 when the truck went into the creek. According to postal service officials, the majority of the mail that was inside the truck was recovered, and recovery efforts are continuing. However, because of the fast current in the creek and the depth of the water, there may be some mail that may surface in the creek in coming days.