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Retired sawmill worker survives cascading logs

Driver expects full recovery from injuries sustained during debris slide on Idaho 55

BANKS – George Patton detected something unusual in his peripheral vision as he was driving on Idaho 55 between Cascade and Boise. It didn’t register, however, until a log glanced off the hood of his car, shattered the windshield and then continued rolling downhill until it came to rest in the Payette River.

He and his wife Mary found themselves in the midst of a snow and rock slide on Jan. 31. One of this winter’s many snowstorms in the Payette River canyon, left a new layer of heavy, wet snow on earlier accumulations. Hillsides along the highway were prone to occasional slides – especially given the ideal conditions – so George and Mary were aware of the potential.

Still, they were caught off guard by the slide that demolished their 1994 Ford Taurus. After the log hit the front of their car, a second one careened down the hill and caved in the driver’sside doors. While the latter may have resulted in more damage to the car, it was the first log, Mary speculated, that resulted in injuries to George.

After ITD and other volunteers cut a swath through the debris to an awaiting ambulance, George was taken to Banks and then transported via helicopter to St. Alphonsus Regional Medical Center in Boise. He had surgery on two broken vertebrae and remained hospitalized nearly two weeks

George, who is 64, continues to recover at home; the prognosis for a full recovery is excellent and there should be no long-term effects, his wife said. Mary sustained minor facial lacerations from the broken windshield but was not hospitalized.

The couple has lived in Cascade since marrying 30 years ago. George was a sawmill worker for Boise Cascade until January 2000 when he was granted a medical retirement.

They have traveled Idaho 55 regularly the past three decades and know the highway – and its potential hazards – fairly well, Mary said. But the rock and snow slide happened so quickly, they could not avoid being caught in the ordeal.

Her advice for other motorists traveling Idaho’s highways in the winter? “When conditions look ripe or are conducive to a slide, don’t take the trip,” Mary said.

Idaho 55 has been closed for brief periods because of the potential for rock, snow and debris slides. Drivers are encouraged to check road conditions before embarking on a trip and be especially vigilant at night for rocks on the highway.