By RYAN PFEIL
Doyle Summers had been in the midst of a morning work routine on Old Highway 99 when he saw sunlight winking off a crashed car's rear bumper at the bottom of an embankment.
The Oregon Department of Transportation maintenance specialist had been checking for slide activity near milepost 8, in the hills above Ashland, on a sharp curve. It was about 8:30 a.m. when he spotted the 2000 Mazda Protege, tipped on its side, silent and unlit.
"I decided to walk down there and make sure everybody was OK, and there happened to be a body there," Summers said.
He'd found 71-year-old Talent resident Lois Evelyn Hamilton, who police say for unknown reasons drove off the road intentionally sometime between Monday night and early Tuesday morning. Emergency responders agreed Summers' discovery on the infrequently traveled stretch of highway contributed to saving Hamilton's life.
"When accidents like this happen, it's just by pure luck that sometimes they get found. Sometimes they don't," said Sgt. Jeff Allison of Oregon State Police. "This was extremely lucky."
Summers said Hamilton was initially unresponsive but that he could see her breathing. He called 911. Officials suspect the car had been there for several hours, as the motor was cold.
Crews from Jackson County Fire District No. 5, Ashland Fire & Rescue and Mercy Flights responded to the scene, along with additional ODOT personnel and OSP. Police closed off the highway stretch in both directions, and rescue crews got to work.
The embankment's steepness and distance to the road made the job tricky. Capt. Steve Maziarski of Fire District 5 said the embankment stretches 200 feet from the roadway's edge to the bottom, where it levels out. The car was about 250 feet beyond that point.
"She was on all four wheels until she got to the bottom of the hill and then the vehicle turned over," Maziarski said.
Crews tied the vehicle to a nearby tree to ensure it didn't continue rolling, extricated Hamilton and put her in a stretcher. Then they began the long, careful walk back up the thistle- and brush-pocked hillside. Crews rigged what Maziarski calls a 3-to-1 haul system, tying one end of a length of cord to the stretcher. Up top, crews pulled the length of rope 50 to 75 feet at a time before resetting and going again.
"It does take some time," Maziarski said, adding the recent wet weather made the operation even more delicate because of increased terrain instability. "Our safest option was to bring her straight up the hill."
Firefighters made it up safely and loaded Hamilton into a helicopter. She was transported to Providence Medford Medical Center, where she was listed in good condition Tuesday afternoon. The accident remains under investigation by OSP.
"I'm glad I found her," Summers said.
Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at email@example.com.