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Published: Wednesday, July 24, 2013, 1:53 p.m.

Driver recalls plunge into Upper Klamath Lake

KLAMATH FALLS, Ore. -- "Sis."
That was the only thing Christopher Marchman, 25, could say to his sister, Jennifer Smith, 24, before Smith's 2005 Dodge Neon flew into Upper Klamath Lake at about 60 mph Saturday afternoon.
The two were traveling to Lake of the Woods with Smith's 10-month-old son, Dayton, from Klamath Falls. As Smith negotiated the turns of Highway 140 West as she had many times before, she blinked.
After that, a blur of dust, flight, air bags, a crash and water fill that space in her memory. The vehicle landed with the wheels down and water began to flood in through the open windows.
"Everything happened really fast," Smith said. "It's not like the movies; it wasn't slow motion."
Marchman unbuckled his seatbelt and then helped Smith with hers.
Smith couldn't get her door open, so she smashed her way out of the driver's side window, which was partly open.
She then smashed through the rear passenger side window and unbuckled Dayton, handing the child to Marchman.
The three began swimming to shore as the car submerged. Witnesses began lining Highway 140, a few men diving in the water to help.
"Help me, help me get my baby out," Smith remembers shouting.
A few men got Dayton to shore, then helped Smith and Marchman. She would later find out the men were veterans headed to the Leatherneck Barbecue at Lake of the Woods. That meant a lot to Smith because she, too, is a veteran.
"It means the world to me that my (military) brothers and sisters would help like that," Smith said.
Smith, Dayton and Marchman all walked away with minor injuries but Smith feels a guard rail could have helped keep her on the road.
"I've wished it was there for years," she said. "It scares me ... . We might have twisted the car but we wouldn't have gone in the water, we wouldn't have been worried about the baby. I really feel like with the guard rail, we could have hit the brakes and been OK."
"It is in our radar," Oregon Department of Transportation Public Information Officer Peter Murphy said. "There isn't much room there. (The highway flattens out there, and is just about the same level as the lake).
Back when that stretch was first built, that was the standard at the time," Murphy said of the guard rail absence. "But it is on our radar for repairs and improvements."
The dilemma, Murphy said, is that with little shoulder room, improvements would have to be worked into the lake. With permits and costs, it can be expensive. ODOT has applied for grants but with a lot of competition, it could be some time before that stretch of road sees an improvement.

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