By Dave Russell
A wet Thursday, Oct. 7 led to several car accidents in Jackson County, including one on U.S. 23/74 involving an N.C. Highway Patrol trooper.
The incident began when a tree fell across both eastbound lanes of the highway near exit 83, Grindstaff Cove Road.
Branden Paul Berger, 44, of Franklin, was traveling eastbound when he struck the tree at about 6 a.m. in his 2019 Chevrolet passenger car. Berger pulled his car to the right hand shoulder of the road. It suffered about $7,000 in damages according to an accident report filed by N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Jonathan Cochran. Berger’s speed was estimated at 55 mph in the 55 mph zone, and 50 mph at the time of impact.
Trooper Cochran responded to the scene in a 2020 Chevrolet and struck the same tree, according to Trooper A.J. Carpenter, who works out of the Asheville NCHP office.
“He was traveling east on 74/23, heavy rain, pitch dark and struck the tree that had fallen across both travel lanes,” Carpenter said. “It was a big tree.”
Cochran was traveling 50 mph but slowed to 20 mph at the time of impact, he said.
“He hardly had time to hit the brakes,” Carpenter said. “He wasn’t on the brakes fast enough because he could not see the tree.”
The traffic backup was not too long, he said.
“One lane was actually open because someone came along with a winch on a truck and was able to pull it the rest of the way out of the travel lanes,” Carpenter said. “The Sylva Fire Department came out and cut the rest of the tree up.”
The crash did about $3,000 in damage to the patrol vehicle, Carpenter said.
No charges were filed.
Sylva Fire and the Highway Patrol were the only responders on scene, he said.