Volunteer firefighter killed in I-84 crash remembered - KPTV - FOX 12

Volunteer firefighter killed in I-84 crash remembered

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HOOD RIVER, OR (KPTV) -

Friends of Ellen Dittebrandt are remembering the volunteer firefighter and local artist who had a huge impact in the communities of Hood River, Mosier and The Dalles. She was killed while riding her bicycle along I-84 early Sunday.

Oregon State Police say the driver of a westbound pickup went into the shoulder and hit Dittebrandt from behind near the Viento State Park exit, throwing her from the bike around 6:30 a.m. While she was wearing a helmet, she died at the scene.

Friends tell Fox 12 they weren't surprised Dittebrandt was riding her bike. They say she'd taken a great interest in getting healthy and recently swam from Mosier to Hood River in the Columbia River, finished a marathon and was known for biking great distances.

But she was also a local firefighter and EMT serving in three districts: The Dalles, Mosier and Hood River. She was honored as Mosier's volunteer firefighter of the year in 2010 and earned the same honor from the Hood River station in 2013.

"Everybody is reeling from it still," Hood River Fire Chief Devon Wells told Fox 12's Kelsey Watts. "Surreal is a good word – they can't believe she's not here, she's not coming in tonight."

Wells said the fire house was like Dittebrandt's second home, and they estimate she spent 30 to 40 hours a week there. On top of her volunteer firefighting duties, she also served as the volunteer treasurer, CPR coordinator and chairman of the Historic Committee.

When she wasn't fighting fires or saving lives, friends say she was painting.

A humble yet renowned artist, she was known for painting the outdoor scenes in the Columbia River Gorge she loved so much; she even painted the very spot where her life ended.

"I think of Ellen as very joyful, which you can see in her paintings – the paint, the color and everything she captures," fellow artist and longtime friend Mark Nilsson said.

He says he became friends with Dittebrandt nearly 20 years ago, and the two would support each other through the challenges of life. Two of her paintings hang in the bustling Celilo Restaurant, where one was draped in a black cloth Monday.

"I hope she's looking down at us and painting Heaven at this point," he added. "We just love you and will miss you and will cherish all the artwork forever."

OSP says the driver involved in the crash is cooperating with the investigation. They believe driver fatigue played a role and he could face charges, pending the outcome of a crash investigation conducted by the district attorney.

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