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Allegedly intoxicated driver hits fire truck at site of earlier fatal crash

 Posted: 3:25 PM January 30, 2013

An Ashland man whose blood-alcohol level was reportedly more than twice the legal limit for driving crashed his pickup into the back of a Jackson County Fire District 5 engine and then into a power pole Tuesday night.

The accident happened in the same area of Highway 99 in Phoenix in which a Medford man died earlier that day after his Jeep Cherokee left the road and smashed into a tree.

Late Tuesday evening, a District 5 crew responded to a report of a fire near the tree hit by Matthew Lee Wilson, 24.

The crew made a pass by the area and found that someone had placed memorial candles near the crash scene, said Division Chief Darin Welburn.

"We decided that it would be best if we put out the candles because people were calling them in as a fire," Welburn said. "It's understandable because a fire had happened there that morning."

Wilson's Jeep burst into flame after he struck a tree near Highway 99 and Cabbage Lane. Wilson died at the scene.

The fire crew had doused the candles and was pulling away from the area when they noticed a vehicle gaining on them at a high rate of speed.

At the last second, the Ford F-150 pickup veered, but not before clipping the rear of the engine.

The pickup then shot forward 100 yards and crashed into a power pole.

No one was injured in the crash, but it could have turn out badly for everyone involved, Welburn said.

"It was a very scary incident," he said. "It could have been a tragic accident for the other driver."

The driver was later identified as 59-year-old Benjamin C. Qualkinbush, of Ashland.

He was detained at the scene by Oregon State Police troopers and later taken to a detox center, where he reportedly blew a .18, which is well above the legal limit of .08.

Qualkinbush was convicted of DUII in 2004. He was not lodged in the Jackson County Jail following his release from the detox center, jail records show.

Meanwhile, District 5's 2000 International fire engine was put out of service pending repair, Welburn said.

"It damaged the rear of the engine," he said. "It took out the tail and back-up lights. It wasn't bad, but it was bad enough."

Welburn said he hopes the area of Highway 99 and Cabbage Lane was unusually busy Tuesday with unfortunate events.

"The same trooper who worked the fatal crash was at the one later that night," Welburn said. "He said, 'Enough of this on this stretch of road.'"

— Chris Conrad

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