http://www.theunion.com/article/2011101 ... ofile=1053
Family and friends are mourning the death of Grass Valley native Aaron Joseph Weiss, 31, whom they described as an “exceptional” person who looked forward to becoming a father next month.
Weiss was among two people who died in an accident on Highway 70 late Thursday in Plumas County, the California Highway Patrol reported.
Weiss, who was living in Paradise, Calif., is the son of Dwight and Debbie Weiss; Dwight Weiss and his brother, Marty Weiss, own Weiss Bros. Nursery in Grass Valley's Glenbrook Basin.
He graduated from Nevada Union High School in 1999 after competing in track and field, especially in the pole vault, cousin Adam Weiss told The Union.
He later graduated from California State University, Chico, where he met the woman who would become his wife, Lisa Weiss. The couple is expecting their first child in November, Adam Weiss said.
Aaron Weiss and Ryan Miles, 29, of Chico, both drowned shortly before 4:30 p.m. Thursday when the blue Ford F550 Miles was driving — a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. utility truck — spun off Highway 70 and sank into Rock Creek Reservoir on the Feather River, CHP reported. The truck was found in 15 feet to 25 feet of water and “was not even visible despite having its lights on,” CHP reported.
The crash happened in the Plumas National Forest, about 100 miles north of Grass Valley. The four utility employees were returning to Chico from the day's work at a PG&E power plant in the town of Caribou, CHP Officer James Stowe reported.
The truck was headed west on the narrow, winding highway approaching the Rock Creek Dam at about the speed limit when the tires on the right side drifted off the road and onto the dirt shoulder, Stowe reported.
Miles “forcefully turned (the truck's) steering wheel to the left in an attempt to bring (the truck) back onto the road. (The truck) entered into an uncontrollable yaw and skidded across both the westbound and eastbound lanes,” Stowe wrote in his report. At some point while it was fishtailing, the truck's driver side hit an embankment, he said.
The truck went airborne, continued over a 5-foot embankment and “plummeted” into the reservoir, “with the right side of (the truck) leading,” Stowe wrote. “When the right side of (the vehicle) impacted with the reservoir, the side impact air curtains inflated.”
The truck has a fully loaded weight of 35,000 pounds and was nearly fully loaded, Stowe told The Union.
“When you have that kind of weight go into the water... it sinks very fast,” Stowe said. Occupants of the truck would have had “an extremely minimal amount of time” to escape.
The two PG&E workers in the back seat survived the crash. They were identified as Mike Diefenderfer, 48, of Paradise and Loren Bird, 25 of Chico. Both suffered minor injuries, CHP reported.
Bodies of the victims were recovered about two hours later, Stowe reported.
“The recovery effort was complicated due to the depth of the water — (the truck) was not even visible despite having its lights on — and required assistance from Calfire” and six other local and state agencies, Stowe reported.
Divers swam in to attach cables to truck to pull it out of the depths, Stowe reported.
Crash dynamics to be studied
The cause of the crash is being listed as the right wheels drifting off the roadway and the severe correction to the left, Stowe said.
The survivors have told investigators “it felt like they got a flat tire," said Adam Weiss. But all four truck tires were still inflated when the vehicle was recovered, Stowe said.
A report that a boulder fell from the hillside above Highway 70 at about the time of the crash was found to be untrue; the boulder fell later in the day, the CHP reported.
In an odd coincidence, Stowe had passed the truck shortly before the accident when both were on Caribou Road, he said. At that time, he observed Miles driving at about 10 mph on the narrow road. That kind of prudence indicates he likely was not speeding on Highway 70, Stowe reasoned.
A survivor also said he believed Miles was driving “at about the speed limit,” Stowe said.
The inflation of the air curtains may have played a part in the drownings, Stowe added.
“It could have contributed to the inability of the front seat occupants to escape the vehicle,” Stowe told The Union. Back-seat passengers may not have been as restricted and may have been more protected there by the structure of the truck, he added.
But many more dynamics were involved in the accident and will be taken into account in the continuing investigation, Stowe said.
Dwight and Debbie Weiss were on their way to Paradise to be with their son's family there, Adam Weiss said Friday.
He described his cousin as “a hard worker. He just loved what he did; he loved working for PG&E.”
Aaron Weiss had been a lineman and specialized in being flown by helicopter, dangling by a cable, into otherwise inaccessible places, his cousin added.
Growing up in Grass Valley, “he was a goofy kid who was silly and loved to joke around,” Adam Weiss recalled. “He was an exceptional kid, a kid who was going somewhere...
“As he matured, he became really serious about his job.”
Adam Weiss, who is 33 and has three children of his own, looked forward to “being a dad” with his cousin, he said. “I was looking forward to having that connection.”
Stowe called the accident “tragic.”
“The CHP is deeply sorry, and we send our best wishes to the families of the victims,” Stowe said.
The CHP investigation will continue, and PG&E has hired its own investigators on the case to learn more, Stowe added. PG&E could not be reached to confirm that report.
“PG&E extends its deepest sympathy and condolences to the family and friends of these employees, as well as colleagues and crew members,” utility company spokesman Paul Moreno said. “PG&E is currently exploring ways we can support the employee's families. This is a sad day for the PG&E family.
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