Robert Wayne Phillips, a 13-year employee of Jefferson County Public Utility District, died April 16 after the PUD truck he was driving on State Route 20 drifted off the road and into a ravine, striking a tree.
Phillips, 72, was driving a 2012 Chevrolet Colorado pickup eastbound on SR 20 at 11:25 a.m. when his utility truck left the road. He was returning to the PUD’s Four Corners operations center after checking on PUD projects around Jefferson County, PUD communications manager Will O’Donnell wrote in a press release.
The front left side of the truck hit a tree, and the tree broke about 30 feet from the ground, falling on a guardrail and partially across the highway, said Jefferson County Undersheriff Art Frank. Traffic was blocked for about an hour to allow East Jefferson Fire Rescue to attend Phillips and a road crew to deal with the tree.
Phillips was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the accident, according to an initial Washington State Patrol report. Alcohol and drugs are not suspected as being involved in the accident, the report said. The patrol is investigating, WSP spokesperson Russ Winger said.
“It’s still under investigation. We don’t know why he drove off the road,” Winger said.
No one else was injured in the accident.
PUD MOURNS LOSS
O’Donnell said PUD employees are mourning the loss of their coworker, who was better known as “Bob.”
Debbie Lund, PUD human resources manager, said it is the first time the PUD has lost an employee on the job.
“Bob was very well liked, and his loss has affected our employees deeply. We’re doing our best to work through. Our sympathies go to family and friends,” Lund said in a press release.
Phillips was a special project coordinator for the PUD and had a variety of duties.
“Bob wore so many hats,” said PUD assistant manager Kevin Streett in a release. “I worked with Bob from the very beginning of my time here at the PUD, and he will be sorely missed. He was instrumental in the transition to adding the electric utility.”
Phillips was originally hired as a water distribution manager in 2005 and also had worked at a customer service counter, taking payments and answering the phone, according to O’Donnell.
When the utility began offering electric service, Phillips moved to the electrical division and served as purchasing agent. He worked with Streett and former general manager Jim Parker to obtain all the tools and equipment necessary to get the electrical division up and running by April 2013, O’Donnell said.
PUD billing coordinator Kim Holt, who took over customer service duties from Phillips in 2012, described Phillips as “ornery and a lot of fun.” Like others, she said she was going to miss him.
“Bob lived a very full life,” said Casey Finedel, GIS specialist for the PUD, according to the release. “He had great stories. He’d even been the mayor of a small town in Colorado at one time. It’s going to take some time for all of us to process his loss.”
East Jefferson Fire Rescue public information officer Bill Beezley said in a press release that the driver was extricated from the vehicle by emergency responders by the side of the road before he collapsed.
“Firefighters immediately began CPR, which eventually proved unsuccessful,” Beezley wrote.
Phillips was pronounced dead at the Jefferson County International Airport. EJFR had taken him there with the hope that an airplane could take him to a hospital in Seattle, Beezley said.
Units from Port Ludlow Fire & Rescue, Discovery Bay Fire and Quilcene Fire Rescue assisted after the accident.
Phillips was the second person killed on State Route 20 this year. Karen D. Najera, 59, of Sequim, died Jan. 5 after the car she was driving swerved across the centerline on State Route 20. That accident occurred on SR 20 near the intersection with Moa Hill Road, according to a WSP report.