La Pine woman killed in Hwy. 97 crash near Gilchrist
A La Pine woman suffered fatal injuries and seven other people were injured Thursday night when a San Diego woman lost control of her car on icy Highway 97 near Gilchrist and it went into the oncoming lane, striking another car head-on, Oregon State Police said.
Troopers said five of the seven survivors were treated at St. Charles-Bend and released, while the two in the hospital were in fair condition.
Around 7:30 p.m., a 1997 Nissan Maxima driven by Marie Velasco, 39, of San Diego, was southbound on Highway 97 near milepost 184 when she lost control of the car on an icy section of road, troopers said.
The Nissan crossed into the northbound lane and collided head-on with a 1995 Mercury four-door driven by Anna Ivens, 34, of La Pine.
The Nissan's six occupants, including three young age children, and the Mercury's two occupants were taken by ambulance to the Bend for treatment of various injuries.
The Mercury's passenger, Cherie N. Richardson, 36, of La Pine, was later pronounced dead at the hospital.
Ivens was listed in fair condition, troopers said. Velasco was treated for minor injuries and released.
Passenger Jonathan Benitez, 18, of Wapato, Washington, and three female juvenile passengers (ages 5, 6, and 13) also were treated and released. Passenger Rosalba Benitez, 34, of Wapato, Washington, was reported in fair condition.
OSP troopers from the Bend and La Pine offices were continuing the investigation; troopers said seat belt use information was not available.
Trooper James Koehler is the lead investigator. The Klamath County District Attorney's Office will review the investigation upon conclusion before any enforcement action is considered.
OSP was assisted at the scene by ODOT and fire department personnel from La Pine, Sunriver, Chemult, and Crescent.
The crash was the worst in the latest round of dozens of collisions, slide-offs and other crashes caused by continued snowfall and slick roads across the High Desert -- and travel conditions are not expected to get better any time soon.
The National Weather Service has posted a winter storm warning until 10 a.m. Saturday, warning of 2-5 inches of snow in Bend and 6-11 more inches at higher elevations. Sisters schools were closed Friday due to the snowfall, district officials said.
NewsChannel 21 Chief Meteorologist Bob Shaw warned that temperatures warming above freezing could turn the snow to rain for a time Friday afternoon, making the evening commute even more tricky. Snow showers are expected to linger Friday night, with lows in the 20s.
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