CORVALLIS, Ore. -- An Albany man died after his vehicle went off Highway 20 into the Willamette River near Corvallis Monday morning, less than one mile from where a Brownsville woman’s vehicle also went into the river earlier this month, the Benton County Sheriff’s Office said.
Kenneth T. Leys, 77, died when the red Chevrolet Cruz he was driving left the highway at high speed as he traveled west toward Corvallis. The vehicle hit a tree and then plunged into the Willamette River. Officials said Lays may have experienced a medical problem while he was driving.
There is no indication that drugs or alcohol were a factor in the crash.
"It's very unsual," said Undersheriff Greg Ridler. "In my time before, we had one about 6 years ago. Last I can remember, we do have people drive off the road once in a while, but going into the river and being submerged is very unusual and very difficult."
Ridler said they received a report around 7:30 a.m. that a vehicle had gone off the highway near milepost 2. The witness said the car had driven off the road into the trees, but crews found that the car had gone into the river.
The vehicle was fully submerged but visible in the river. Divers with the Linn County Sheriff's Office were able to connect a tow cable and the car was pulled from the river.
Cold weather and steep terrain made efforts to remove the vehicle from the river more challenging, Ridler said.
Multiple public safety agencies rushed to the site to help, including Benton County Marine Patrol, Linn County Sheriff's Office, Corvallis Fire, Albany Fire, Corvallis Police and Oregon Department of Transportation. The highway was closed for more than three hours while the crash was investigated.
The body of missing Brownsville woman Suzanne Durheim, 65, was found in the Willamette River Jan. 15 after she had been missing for about a week. She went missing on Jan. 7 on her way to work.