Oregon Firefighter Van Crash Charges Dropped

Associated Press Writer

PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) -- Prosecutors dropped charges Wednesday against a private firefighting company over the deaths of eight firefighters in a van crash last summer.

The charges against First Strike Environmental for drunken driving and reckless driving stemmed from the August crash of the van into a semi-truck in eastern Oregon as the eight men were returning from an Idaho wildfire.

Blood tests showed the van's driver, 23-year-old Mark Ransdell, had been drinking, but the level of alcohol was disputed. Prosecutors alleged supervisors at Roseburg-based First Strike knew a large amount of alcohol had been bought during the firefighters' trip home.

"To see this come to ... full dismissal of all charges before trial, it is a real vindication,'' said David Terry, an attorney for First Strike.

He said prosecutors agreed that "because this tragic motor vehicle accident left no survivors and because the toxicology and other evidence was so compromised, we may never know whether alcohol was a factor in the crash.''

Malheur County prosecutor Dan Norris acknowledged the problems with the case, including urine tests that showed alcohol levels below the legal limit.

"Our scientific evidence did not meet the standards that we expect to see,'' Norris said.

As part of an agreement to drop charges, First Strike made safety changes including providing more training for drivers.

The victims' families had mixed reactions to the decision.

"There were some who wanted some sort of criminal conviction (and) some who never wanted to bring this action,'' Norris said.