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Teen driver escapes icy crash on Saratoga Road unharmed

Firefighter Jeff Parker fights his way through the brambles to switch off the running motor of the Toyota Tacoma lying upside down below Saratoga Road Thursday.  - Jim Larsen / The Record
Firefighter Jeff Parker fights his way through the brambles to switch off the running motor of the Toyota Tacoma lying upside down below Saratoga Road Thursday.
— image credit: Jim Larsen / The Record

A young driver escaped injury Thursday afternoon when the pickup she was driving hit an icy patch on Saratoga Road, sending it off the roadway into a deep ravine.

The accident happened about a mile north of Langley. It was a sunny day, but Saratoga Road’s northern exposure guarded by tall fir and alder trees protects the pavement from the sun’s rays, keeping it icy long after most others roads are free and clear.

South Whidbey Fire/EMS, Langley Police Chief Randy Heston, and Island County Sheriff’s Lt. Evan Tingstad responded, along with Whidbey Ambulance. Driver Grace Mathew, 16, was shaken but unhurt. After being checked out by medics inside the ambulance, she stepped into her mother’s vehicle for a solemn ride home.

Her mother, Theresa Mathew, said “she’s OK, just scared.” A resident of the area, she said she was always telling her daughter to be careful and watchful for ice when driving. She made Grace, who attends college classes at Skagit Valley College, wait until she was 16 ½ before she could drive.

“I’m just glad that she is OK,” said Theresa. “It was a learning experience.” Jim Larsen / The Record | Firefighter Jeff Parker fights his way through the brambles to switch off the running motor of the Toyota Tacoma lying upside down below Saratoga Road Thursday.

Theresa Mathew arrived at the scene about five minutes after South Whidbey Fire/EMS. Her daughter was already out of the vehicle and standing on the road, approximately 10-feet above her pickup. She was uncertain if Grace got out of the vehicle by herself or was helped out. Her first notification was a cell phone call from her daughter. “All I heard was ‘Saratoga Road’ and I started driving and found this,” she said.

There were skid marks on the ice and grass as the northbound vehicle crossed the other lane, flipped over, crashed through thick blackberry vines and landed on its top, with the front end pointing back toward the road.

The Toyota Tacoma was barely visible from the road. Lt. Tingstad noted that had it not been for the skid marks, it could have gone unseen for a long time.

At one point, the vehicle’s motor started running in labored fashion. “It’s sucking the fuel back through the fuel pump,” said Paul Busch, assistant chief of the fire department. Firefighters Jeff Parker and Brian Vick made the difficult trip through the brambles to turn the engine off before a fire could start.

Island County sent equipment to sand the icy road and Grace Mathew joined the ranks of many other islanders who have found themselves at the bottom of one of the steep bluffs on Saratoga Road. Chief Heston said he’s seen three in his short time as Langley’s chief; Tingstad said he’s seen too many to count over the years; and resident Rodger Bergquist said there have been four in front of his house alone. He planned to call the Road Department every time there’s ice from now on.

The Road Department can expect a lot of calls before winter’s end.

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