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Portland reservist dies in Iraq war

19-year-old killed in vehicle accident is Portland's first casualty since war started

A Portland Army reservist died Saturday in either Iraq or Kuwait, becoming Portland's first casualty since the war began last week.

The Department of Defense confirmed Monday that Army Reserve Spc. Brandon S. Tobler, 19, died in a nonhostile vehicle accident.

Tobler was a member of the 671st Engineering Company in Portland. His parents, Leon and Gail Tobler, live in Southeast Portland. Tobler graduated in 2001 from Franklin High School.

Scott Tom, Tobler's uncle, said the family was filling out military paperwork when the Tribune went to press and was unavailable for comment.

Capt. Randy Montalbano, a casualty officer with the Army, said Monday that Tobler was killed about 10:30 p.m. Saturday when a sandstorm swept in and caused an accident involving the Humvee in which he was a passenger. Accounts differed on whether the accident occurred in Kuwait or Iraq.

Montalbano said visibility was zero and the Humvee slammed into the back of a larger vehicle. He said Tobler was killed instantly.

Tom said the family was 'devastated. We're just going to do our best to all come together and face this,' he said. Tobler was an only child.

Tom said there were three military vehicles waiting at the family home Sunday night when Gail Tobler came home from work at a Montessori school.

'Just visualize military vehicles coming to your home,' Tom said. 'They came with the news that has changed our lives.'

Tom said Tobler's girlfriend, Val, was in disbelief upon hearing the news. 'She said, 'prove it to me,' ' he said. 'I want to see the body.'

Gabriel Piltzer, a friend of Tobler's from Franklin, described Tobler as 'always light-spirited, always funny. He never had anything bad to say about anyone ever. He was never the kind of kid you could hate.'

Tom McCarthy, head football coach at Franklin, said he had Tobler as a student in a weight-training class.

'He seemed like a nice kid,' McCarthy said. 'He never gave me any grief. He was an outgoing guy.'

Spc. Heide Dennis, 33, a bridge crew member with the same unit, also was injured in the accident. She was not seriously hurt, an Army spokeswoman said.

Tobler was one of 184 soldiers from the reserve unit deployed in the Middle East. The spokeswoman for the 671st said Tobler was an automated logistics specialist assigned to the motor pool.

Tobler's unit specializes in building 'ribbon bridges,' or floating bridges that use pontoons and other temporary means to span waterways.