FOSSIL, Ore. - (Update: Details of 16-count DA's information, suspect arraigned, due back in court next Tuesday)
A driver was arraigned Tuesday in The Dalles on two counts of criminally negligent homicide and other charges after her car crossed into the oncoming lane of state Highway 19 near Fossil late Saturday night and struck a group of motorcyclists, killing two and seriously injuring several others, authorities said.
Oregon State Police troopers, Wheeler County sheriff's deputies and ODOT responded to the crash around 10:40 p.m. Saturday, said OSP Sgt. Jeff Proulx.
A preliminary investigation found that a vehicle heading west on Highway 19 near milepost 61, just east of Fossil, collided with a group of motorcycles heading south, fatally injuring two riders and seriously injuring several others, Proulx said.
Wheeler County Sheriff Chris Humphreys confirmed Monday that the car driven by Lisa Ann Niehaus struck a large number of motorcycle riders, riding as a group to attend an event at nearby Bear Hollow Park.
"There were two fatalities on scene and numerous serious and traumatic injuries," Humphreys said in a news release.
That resulted in a medical response requiring ambulances from Spray, Fossil, Condon and Arlington, along with five emergency air ambulance transports from the crash scene and the Asher Community Health Clinic.
Volunteer medical crews and fire department's responded, along with OSP and the Wheeler and Gilliam county sheriff's offices, the sheriff said.
"I've seen a lot of wrecks in a lot of years, and I've never seen anything like this," said Wheeler County Fire Services Coordinator Rick Shaffer.
Humphreys also said many of those in the group "were self-identified as being members of the Gypsy Jokers Motorcycle Club."
The crash and investigation closed Highway 19 for almost nine hours, with a crane called in to help clear the wreckage.
Niehaus was arrested and booked into jail on numerous charges, including two counts of criminally negligent homicide, three counts of third-degree assault and several misdemeanors, the sheriff said.
NIehaus, 50, was arraigned by video in Wasco County Circuit Court Tuesday afternoon on an initial district attorney's charging document, called an "information," that lists 16 counts: Two counts of criminally negligent homicide, a Class B felony, three counts of third-degree assault, a Class C felony, and 11 Class A misdemeanors: three counts of fourth-degree assault, one count of reckless driving and seven counts of recklessly endangering.
She is due for arraignment on an expected formal indictment next Tuesday afternoon.
Several victims remain in critical care at area hospitals, Humphreys said, adding that no names are being released at this time, due to the criminal investigation. The families of those who died have been notified, he added.
Humphreys noted that "Wheeler County is a frontier rural county, with emergency services staffed primarily by highly trained volunteers. The nearest trauma-level medical care is on average about 90 miles away."
The sheriff said he "would like to thank the huge effort put forth by all the agencies and volunteers that assisted."
Online commenters on NewsChannel 21's Facebook page indicated the motorcyclists were among those taking part in the 40th Fossil Motorcycle Campout held this weekend south of Fossil and that several of the injured were taken to St. Charles Bend.
The event is put on by ABATE of Oregon, which the group says on its Facebook page "stands for A Brotherhood Against Totalitarian Enactments, which isn’t nearly as subversive as it sounds. It means that we act as legislative watchdogs to help ensure that any legislation affecting motorcyclists is fair and that elected officials are fully informed regarding motorcycle issues."
A GoFundMe page has been created to help families involved with their expenses.