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Fender-bender turns fatal


Of the Keizertimes

It was a minor enough accident that the Keizer Police Department wasn’t even called.

Five days later, however, one of the involved drivers passed away, with the accident being considered a contributing factor.

Sgt. Trevor Wenning with the KPD said a minor fender bender took place at Chemawa Road NE and 13th Avenue NE around 5 p.m. on Nov. 3, with the blue 2001 Chevrolet S-10 pick-up of 50-year-old Salem resident Thomas Hawks suffering minor rear bumper damage after being hit by a 2006 Jeep Commander.

Wenning said the two drivers exchanged insurance information and that seemed to be the end of it.

“She rear-ended him,” Wenning said of the other driver. “They clipped bumpers. There were no injuries and both drove away.”

The incident didn’t show up in Keizer’s police logs until three weeks later. When weekly calls were reviewed by the Keizertimes on Nov. 24, the incident stood out, both because of how much time had passed and because it was coded as a fatal accident.

Wenning said there’s a somewhat unusual reason for that.

“When Mr. Hawks woke up Nov. 5, he had severe headaches and was vomiting,” Wenning said. “He went to Salem Hospital. He went into a coma that day and passed away on Nov. 8.”

Wenning said KPD never responded to the accident because there was no call. Only after Hawks’ passing did police learn of the incident.

“A relative of the deceased talked to the Salem Police Department, after the death,” Wenning said. “Salem realized it was a Keizer case and the medical examiner needed a police report. I assigned an officer to it, who went out to investigate what he could.”

Wenning said the investigation revealed Hawks had pre-existing medical conditions but referred specific questions to the Marion County Medical Examiners Office. An official at the Medical Examiners Office had no comment, citing privacy laws.

“They’re leaving it as a fatal accident,” Wenning said. “They feel the crash was a contributing factor to his death.”

Wenning, who has been with the KPD since 1998, couldn’t recall such a bizarre case in his time with the agency. The only similar one he could think of was when an older man tried crossing River Road at Churchdale Street and was hit, then died after 29 days in the hospital. A key difference in this case is Hawks wasn’t taken to the hospital after the initial incident.

“For Keizer, this is an unusual occurrence,” Wenning said. “This one is unique. He went to the doctor and unfortunately didn’t come out.”