Woman extricated from SUV after logging truck crushes it

This is a very sobering account of a local woman trapped and injured yesterday when a logging truck went out of control, flipped on its side and crushed her vehicle beneath a load of redwood logs.  Published today in the Santa Cruz Sentinel:


Text of the story follows. 




August 3, 2006 

Woman extricated from SUV after logging truck crushes it


WATSONVILLE — Rescue crews spent a little more than an hour extricating a woman trapped in her sport utility vehicle when a logging truck went out of control and flipped onto its side, crushing her vehicle beneath a load of redwood logs.

The woman was alive and conscious when crews finally freed her from the crushed vehicle.

"That's about as close as you can get," said CHP officer Jason Morgan.

"She got lucky."

Police identified her as a Watsonville resident in her mid-20s.

Witnesses said the truck driver turned west from Highway 152 onto Holohan Road when the back end of the semi-trailer swung into a line of oncoming traffic about 6 p.m. Wednesday.

All but one of vehicles were able to speed up and avoid the truck, but the woman in a white GMC SUV wasn't so lucky.

The man in the car behind the victim said that when the truck came around the corner and it appeared to be moving too fast.

"I held up, thinking he would make a wider turn," the witness said. "The driver tried to stay in his lane, and I noticed his back end starting to swerve out. Right before it hit her it started to roll."

Imelda Ornelas, 34, who saw the accident from the fruit stand across the street, said she heard the woman yell "No!" as the truck slowly careened toward her.

The tractor and trailer tipped onto its side and the logs, bundled with cables, rolled onto the SUV's passenger side and back seat. They crushed the windshield but left the hood mostly intact. During the crash, the shaft connecting the front and rear axles of the logging truck apparently broke, leaving the truck's carriage on its side with the wheels in the air.

Chuck Frey, 61, of Stockton, said he was across the street at the gas station when he heard the crash. He rushed to the crushed vehicle.

"I held her hand and told her to breathe," Frey said. "I don't know how she's alive but I could see her ribs moving. I never saw her face. She was all buried in there," he said.

Witnesses say the truck driver climbed from his overturned truck, apparently uninjured, and rushed to the crushed car, but there was nothing he could do.

Within minutes, three fire trucks and at least five police cars were on the scene.

Rescue crews were on tenterhooks for more than an hour, unsure whether there were other passengers in the vehicle under the tremendous weight of the logs.

At least 15 firefighters worked feverishly with the driver of the semi, and three tow trucks were called to stabilize the logs and prevent them from shifting and crushing the victim or rescue workers. Firefighters had to move the truck's carriage to reach the injured woman. After an hour, crews peeled off the door of the SUV, and minutes later were able to free the woman, who was conscious and responsive and covered in tree bark.

"I called her by her first name and she seemed to respond," said CHP officer Jennifer Mapa, who is in charge of investigating the accident. "She said there was no one else in the car."

Both rescue workers and more than a hundred onlookers were relieved to see the woman extracted alive. Some in the crowd called it a miracle.

"I'm grateful she's alive but I'm even more grateful she was alone," officer Morgan said.

The woman was taken by helicopter to the trauma center at Regional Medical Center in San Jose. Her condition was unknown, but she wasn't bleeding and only scratches could be seen as they loaded her onto an ambulance.

Leeroy Bowles, 72, who owns a transport service in Freedom, was on the scene with a 10-ton forklift. He said he would help the emergency crew move the logs from the road once the fire trucks and tow trucks cleared the scene.

According to police, the truck was owned by the driver.

Contact Emily Saarman at esaarman@santacruzsentinel.com.

Rebecca Moore
August 3, 2006