DEMING, Wash. — A Whatcom County Public Works snowplow hit and killed a pedestrian Tuesday night on State Route 9 just south of Deming, located east of Bellingham.
The crash occurred just after 6 p.m. in the northbound lanes. The pedestrian, who was identified by Washington State Patrol (WSP) as a 47-year-old Aaron Cooper, was walking along the "small" shoulder, according to WSP. He was wearing dark clothing with his back to traffic.
The driver, 56-year-old James Endersby, stopped immediately and provided aid to the pedestrian, reportedly told WSP that he didn’t see the pedestrian until he was about 8 feet in front of the plow.
Cooper died on scene.
The area where the crash happened was described by WSP as very rural with no crosswalks nearby. No word was given on why the victim was walking along such a rural part of SR 9.
SR 9 was closed until about 10:45 p.m. Tuesday while troopers investigated.
Whatcom County Public Works Director Jon Hutchings shared condolences Wednesday.
“We extend our deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the deceased during this difficult time,” Hutchings said in a statement.
Public Works officials don't believe anything like this has ever happened in Whatcom County before.
Investigators said Cooper was walking in the same direction as the plow when it hit him from behind.
"I can't tell you what this does to a small community when you have something like this happening," said Public Works Special Programs Manager Roland Middleton. "There's nothing good about this. It's nothing but tragic."
Middleton said he knows Endersby and he is not one of the new workers hired to fill a snowplow driver shortage in the county.
"He's an experienced driver," Middleton said. "He has been well trained."
Friends told KING 5 News Cooper was a member of the Nooksack Tribe.
Cooper’s Facebook page stated he was a former case manager with the Nooksack Tribe as well as a father, brother, son and grandfather.
"This is a rotten way to start off the new year, I can tell you that," said Jeff Margolis.
Margolis watched Cooper grow up when he would come into the general store Margolis ran in Deming for decades.
"The community here is very close," Margolis said. "I know everyone is mourning and sad and just feels terrible for the family."
"This tragedy is felt by everyone involved," added Middleton. "Everyone has friends or family who will know the people involved."
Middleton then revealed that he is among them.
"I didn't actually know it was him until about an hour ago," Middleton said. "I'm still a little shocked, myself, and to be honest with you, this is tough."
Along with the driver, Middleton also knew Cooper.
The two shared a love of blues music and used to chat over beers when a favorite band was in town.
Rural Whatcom County has been through some difficult times in recent months with devastating November floods leaving hundreds still out of their homes, and back-to-back snowstorms that paralyzed the area's small towns for days.
Now, the community is left reeling with Cooper's incomprehensible death.
"It just seems like we hoped 2022 was going to start off better than the last couple of years," said Middleton. "This is a really sad way to start out the year."
A spokesman for the WSP said investigators do not believe drugs or alcohol were factors in the accident.
The investigation is continuing and Endersby is cooperating, according to police.
The crash comes as the region continues to crawl out of an arctic snowstorm that dropped temperatures well below freezing and dumped heaps of snow all the way down to sea level.
However, the snow isn’t gone just yet. Western Whatcom County, including areas around Bellingham, could see up to 6 inches of snow by Wednesday night through Thursday morning.