Remembering Gary Schafte

Washougal man died 11 days after colliding with BNSF train on his way to work

Gary Schafte with his son, Ryan, in 1992.

Gary Schafte's family said he loved his job as a forklift driver. This photo of Schafte at work was taken July 9, just six days before a collision with a freight train critically injured the Washougal man. Schafte, 55, died July 26.

Gary Schafte’s son, Ryan, says his dad loved working. And work was exactly where Schafte, of Washougal, was headed at 6:15 a.m., July 15, when his truck veered off Whitney Street in Washougal and collided with a BNSF freight train.

The train’s engineer performed CPR on Schafte, 55, until paramedics arrived and rushed the 55-year-old Washougal man to PeaceHealth Hospital in Vancouver.

Schafte died July 26, after spending 11 days on life support.

The cause of the accident is still undetermined.

“The driver struck the side of the train and we have an extensive investigation underway, but the findings will likely not be made public, which is pretty standard in these cases,” BNSF Railroad spokesperson Gus Melonas told the Post-Record.

Understandably, Schafte’s family is craving answers to their loved one’s death.

Ryan Schafte, a former Marine who had lived with his single father at his Washougal home for the past several years, said the elder Schafte was fighting a terrible flu the morning of the crash. “My guess is there was a last-second distraction that kept him from really reacting to the train, because I know he was sick and wasn’t at 100 percent,” Ryan Schafte told the Post-Record last week. “It was a pretty bad flu that had been going on for about a week prior to that.”

Gary Schafte worked as a forklift driver at Columbia Cascade Timberform for more than three decades. Family members say calling in sick was not something the 55-year-old father would do, since work was a huge part of Gary Schafte’s life.

“I was telling him, ‘Dude, you should probably use your sick days’ because he didn’t take his vacation days last year so he had 10 extra sick days,” Ryan Schafte said.

Gary Schafte graduated from Washougal High School in 1982 and lived in Washougal his entire adult life. He married twice and had two children, Ryan Schafte and Lacey Bieker, along with three sisters who live in the Portland-Vancouver area.

The elder Schafte also had a wide range of artistic talents, ranging from writing poetry to drawing and carving.

“He would pick up a block of wood and a knife, and a day or two later you would have a whittled cowboy. He was crazy good at drawing as well. He drew the Houses of the Holy (Led Zeppelin) album cover freehand,” said Karin Carroll, Gary Schafte’s first wife and high school classmate. Gary Schafte also enjoyed listening to music while he tinkered, his friends and family said.

“He built bicycles out of spare parts, and they were really nice bikes,” Ryan Schafte said. “I must say, he did play his music extremely loud, much to my chagrin because I like to keep my (music) mellow.”

Ryan Schafte said his dad was an extremely dedicated father and the hardest worker he’s ever known.

“That dude was an incredibly hard worker,” Ryan Schafte said of his father. “His overall ethic was top-notch. He was always willing to help people. Even if he really didn’t want to, he would still do what he could to help people out.”

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