Near-miss car accident at Glendale Road raises a hole lot of questions

A visitor to Whidbey Island nearly drove into the Glendale Road washout last weekend

A young driver from Sequim was lucky this past weekend while trying to find his way near Glendale, residents say — he and his car might have landed in a 25-foot-deep hole.

“This has been a real worry of ours for two years,” said Mindy Thompson. “It’s not a good situation to come around a corner and slam into a pile of dirt.”

“We’ve been having bets when someone was going to crash and go over into the creek,” she added.

Thompson and her husband Michael, who live near Glendale Creek right next to the flood-caused gap in Glendale Road, awoke early Sunday morning to find the front of a car poking up above a dirt pile on the other side of the hole.

Mike Thompson investigated, and found a man in his early 20s sleeping inside a white Subaru Outback that was straddling the earthen berm constructed by the county to prevent vehicles from plunging in the hole.

The radio was playing.

“He was so still, my husband didn’t know if he was alive,” Thompson said. “I called 911.”

Emergency officials said the man later told them he had become lost in the dark and rain while driving around the South End shortly after midnight Saturday.

He and his dog were traveling south on Cultus Bay Road, then turned east, eventually ending up on Glendale Road, he said.

“He said he looked away as he was coming down the hill, and all of a sudden, there he was on the dirt,” said Island County Fire District 3 Deputy Chief Mike Cotton.

The vehicle plowed through a red-and-white wooden barrier and landed in the soft pile of earth about six feet high and the width of the roadway.

Cotton said that although the car had no airbags, the driver was unhurt and declined medical attention. His dog also appeared uninjured, and the two spent the night in the car waiting for help.

Thompson’s 911 call came in about 7 a.m., Cotton said.

Mindy Thompson said she and her husband were able to reach the car from the other side via a pathway across the creek built by the county after the flood.

“He was stunned and shocked,” she said of the driver.

Cotton said the man contacted relatives in Sequim, who arrived on the island later. He said the Subaru, which was pulled off the dirt pile by a tow truck, sustained minor damage.

County officials said the dirt did what it was designed to do.

“The berm we constructed stopped the vehicle,” Island County Public Works Director Bill Oakes said Thursday. “That was our intent.”

The 25-foot-deep gap about 200 feet wide opened in Glendale Road just west of Holst Road in early April 2009. The culvert beneath the road collapsed, sending a wall of trapped water, mud and debris rushing into the tiny beach community of Glendale, forcing evacuations and causing millions of dollars in damages.

After a series of community meetings, it was decided that the county would seal off each end of the road at the gap and erect barriers, leaving the stream bed open.

On the Holst Road side, there is no berm because of the location of the Thompsons’ driveway, Oakes said. But at nearby Holst Road, the county has placed concrete barrier blocks more than two feet high and four feet wide to deflect drivers who may turn that way, and there’s an additional wooden barrier next to the gap.

Also, road warning signs are placed on access roads leading to both sides of Glendale Road, Oakes said.

He said three warning signs are posted on the approaches to Glendale Road from Cultus Bay Road, beginning about a half-mile from the gap. A reduce-speed sign recommending 35 mph also is posted, Oakes said.

“We’ve taken every measure to make it very difficult to go off the road,” he said.

Mindy Thompson thinks more should be done.

“When it’s dark and rainy, and there’s no lights and you don’t see the signs, there’s no way to know that hole’s there,” she said.

“Maybe this will push the county to properly close the road,” she added  “We’ll see.”