Mount Vernon man dies in North Whidbey wreck

A 53-year-old Mount Vernon man died Thursday after colliding head-on with a dump truck on Highway 20 near Arnold Road.

The wreck shut down the highway for approximately five hours.

James Taitano was driving his Ford station wagon southbound on the highway and crossed the centerline for an unknown reason, Washington State Patrol Trooper Scott Wernecke said.

“For reasons yet unknown, the car crossed the centerline,” Wernecke said.

Taitano was airlifted to Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where he died. His son, Brandon, also had to be airlifted to Harborview with extensive leg injuries. Another passenger, 5-year-old Bailey Taitano, was also lifted to Harborview for unreported reasons.

Approximately 30 firefighters, medics and a crew from Whidbey General Hospital worked for more than an hour to free Taitano from the mangled wagon. The impact thrust the entire front end of the car into its cabin.

When crews finally freed him, he was alive. He was transported to Whidbey General Hospital and airlifted to Harborview.

“The (dump truck) driver did a hell of a job,” Wernecke said. “He was able to keep under control.”

If the dump truck had been more to the left, it was possible it would have driven over the wagon and rolled, crews at the scene said.

“Why this happened is going to be really tough to answer,” Trooper W. Knudson said. “The worst part is that somebody lost their life here.”

Troopers performed an inspection of the dump truck, but found no evidence to lead them to believe the dump truck’s driver, Mount Vernon resident Russell Swett, was at fault.

The force of the impact sheered off the suspension of the dump truck and bent its frame. Swett was unhurt in the wreck and declined to comment at the scene.

Swett attempted to swerve out of the way and skidded into a field alongside the road. The impact point was more than four feet into the next lane. The impact sent the wagon backwards approximately 15 feet.

Bailey and Brandon are in satisfactory condition at Harborview.

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