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Two years later Winston family recovering after Wish Upon a Star lends a hand

For Eric and Patrice Cooper of Winston, help from the Wish Upon a Star program didn’t make all of their struggles disappear in 2016. But they said it sure made a huge difference at the time.

Akira Cooper, who was 7 years old at the time, was burned over most of her body. To make matters worse, the family returned home from a Portland hospital to find the family kitchen was flooded, and insurance didn’t pay for it. Eric Cooper had used up all of his sick and vacation time and was forced to go back to work.

The family, which included four kids at home the time, was nominated and selected for Wish Upon A Star, a partnership between Brooke Communications and area businesses, helping people in need during the holidays for the last 19 years.

The program paid for finishing the countertops in their kitchen, some plumbing, a new refrigerator, food for Christmas and some presents for the kids.

“I got choked up on the phone, I had to hand it to my wife so she could talk to them,” Cooper said. “It’s there for people who have issues that have to be solved now, and it’s not a cure-all, but it was a great thing to have happen to us.”

The daughter, who is now 9, has been making good progress with yearly trips north for appointments to stretch the skin as she grows.

“She’s doing pretty good, and we still have to do treatments up in Portland,” Cooper said.

The family’s insurance was taking care of the treatments up until this year, but now he says, the procedure will no longer be covered and they have a $15,000 bill that went to collections that they have to take care of. The daughter still needs the surgery once a year until she’s done growing, because it helps the scar tissue stretch and she will continue to need the procedure as she keeps growing.

“Fighting with the insurance company is the difficult part right now,” he said.

Her surgery was experimental, but the insurance company signed off it, Cooper said. Even though the surgery has been successful, the insurance company wants them to go back to an approved surgery which requires a lot more cutting and replacing of skin.

“With the laser treatment, you have three days of down time and you’re back to school and your skin’s elasticity is up,” Cooper said. “And it’s much less invasive.”

Cooper said the family is still getting through the financial issues with the medical bills, but he said he will always be grateful for the help from Wish Upon A Star.

“It made a huge difference at the time, we didn’t have anything extra, or anything at the time for Christmas, and we had that kitchen project that was going on, so that we could actually cook a meal for ourselves,” he said. “So if it wasn’t for that (Wish Upon A Star), we wouldn’t have had a very good Christmas that year, that helped out a lot.”

Editor’s note: The News-Review and Brooke Communications share common ownership.

Tow-Truck driver recognized for stopping wrong-way driver

Christian Gruber said it it’s just part of the job.

In March, Gruber was headed southbound on Interstate 5 in his Roseburg Towing truck when he heard on the scanner about a wrong-way driver heading toward him.

He activated his overhead lights and started slowing down and creating a serpentine pattern to slow down the cars behind him. He slowed to total stop at an angle in the middle of the road which stopped all of the traffic behind him.

“To be blunt, I never considered the possibility she would hit me,” Gruber said. “I was in a big F-550 tow-truck and she was in a little Honda Civic.”

Gruber said the police radioed in what happened and word spread.

“Traffic wasn’t upset about it, I’m assuming, because they saw the car coming at them and knew what I did,” Gruber said. “There was no honking or anything.”

He thought the excitement had died down until he received an invitation from American Towman magazine in September for the annual American Towman Exposition in Baltimore last November.

At the festival night, Gruber was one of nine tow,truck drivers nationwide given an American Towman Commendation award for courageous professionalism. On the medal, the words “Courage Under Fire” on inscribed on the back.

Gruber said he’s stopped traffic in similar situations at least three times as a truck driver, including an incident immediately after coming home from the conference.

“This wasn’t something done to get recognition,” Gruber said. “It was a big surprise. I think a lot of people, if they had the ability to do what I did, would.”

Gruber said he hears about wrong-way drivers on the road a once or twice a week.

According to the Oregon State Police on Wednesday, 403 wrong-way drivers were reported in Oregon since the beginning of the year.

Last year, 495 were reported.

In May, a wrong-way driver near Yoncalla struck and killed four people.

According to the US Department of Transportation, about 350 people die in the U.S. every year because of a wrong way driving accident.

A meta-analysis by the National Transportation Safety Board found that more than half and as many as three quarters of wrong-way accidents are the fault of a drunk driver.

“Things do happen and tow truck drivers can be first responders,” Gruber said. “It’s a split second decision to do the right thing, to make that decision to act. It’s just what we do.”

MSullivan / MICHAEL SULLIVAN/The News-Review  

Volunteer Kerstin Assed, 16, of Roseburg helps assemble Christmas dinner food boxes for delivery at an event organized by Douglas County Cancer Services in Roseburg on Saturday.

Body of missing Azalea man found not far from his vehicle

An Azalea man who had been missing since Dec. 8 was found dead Saturday afternoon about 200 yards from where his pickup truck was located Thursday morning off Eakin Road east of Quines Creek in Azalea.

After three days of extensive ground searching in steep terrain, the body of 79-year-old Terry Dodds was located by search crews at 1:20 p.m. Saturday over an embankment in thick replanted trees and heavy brush.

The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office was assisted by Jackson and Josephine County Search and Rescue personnel.

Sheriff’s deputies said Dodds left his home on Azalea Glen Road in the Glendale area at around 8 p.m. on Dec. 8. The Sheriff’s Office was notified Thursday morning that Dodds’ dog had been located by loggers. The loggers brought the dog to Dodds residence, not knowing anything about the missing person report. At that time, Dodds’ family reported the information to the sheriff’s office.

Dodds’ 2004 Dodge 2500 was located a short time later on on a spur road off Wildcat Road. The vehicle appeared to have slid off of the roadway and into a ditch.

Sheriff’s deputies said Dodds suffered from a medical issue that may have left him in a confused state of mind.

The Douglas County Medical Examiner’s Office is conducting a death investigation.