VALLE VISTA: Woman killed when airborne SUV smashes head-on into bus

VALLE VISTA — A 38-year-old, Hemet woman died when her vehicle hit a berm, went airborne and smashed – mid-air and head-on – into the front of a parked bus. The woman’s SUV burst into flames upon impact and firefighters had to conduct extensive extrication to recover the victim’s body after extinguishing the blaze.

When officials arrived they found an SUV that had smashed head-on into a parked, non-operational bus, after hitting a berm and going airborne. John Strangis photo

The fiery accident happened just after midnight, Sunday, Oct. 8, at the “T” intersection of Chicago Avenue and Cedar/Fairview Avenue in the unincorporated community of Valle Vista.

One area resident who ran to the scene to try to render aid, Nathan Diaz, later said he had been watching television inside his residence when the accident happened.

“It sounded like a sonic boom. I could feel it three blocks down, at Windfall and Cedar,” Diaz described. “Then we heard shouting from as far down as we were.”

Diaz, his family members and other neighbors came running from their homes when they heard the tremendous crash, which Diaz described as “three loud booms.”

When Diaz got to the fiery wreck, he described finding “a horrific scene.”

“I don’t know if anyone got out,” Diaz explained. “Honestly, by the looks of it, I don’t think anyone could have gotten out.”

Seventeen firefighters from four engine companies responded to the scene of the fatal wreck, Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire Spokeswoman Jody Hagemann explained in an incident report. They were assisted by Soboba firefighters and American Medical Response medics.

Firefighters work to extinguish a fire that erupted when a Dodge Durango went airborne and smashed into a bus parked on a private property. John Strangis photo

When police, fire personnel and other rescue personnel arrived, they found the blazing wreck of the Dodge. Flames from the SUV had begun to spread into the bus, which was soon fully engulfed in fire.

Firefighters immediately began to battle the blaze and called for additional resources that would be needed to perform a cut and rescue operation to try to save anyone potentially trapped inside the SUV or the bus

While firefighters battled the blazing fire and worked to extricate the victim from the SUV, California Highway Patrol officials investigated the cause of the deadly crash.

According to CHP, the accident happened when the driver, who has not yet been publicly identified, failed to stop for a posted stop sign at the “T” intersection.

During their investigation, officials determined the victim was driving northbound on Chicago Avenue in her 2001 Dodge Durango. According to CHP Public Information Officer Darren Meyer, the driver was traveling “well in excess of the posted 45 MPH speed limit;” however her exact speed has not yet been determined.

“The Durango failed to slow for the stop sign,” said Meyer. “Still traveling at a high rate of speed, the Durango traversed the intersection, collided with a dirt mound on the north side of the road and became airborne.”

Police and fire officials survey the scene of the fiery, fatal wreck. John Strangis photo

Diaz and officials at the scene estimated that when the Dodge hit the berm and went airborne it flew about 20-40 feet in the air, before smashing head-on with the bus.

“It was a pretty hard impact,” said Diaz, who estimated the driver “would have had to have been traveling at least 80 mph, if not more,” to have hit the parked bus with such force.

Diaz estimated the impact between the SUV and bus forced the larger vehicle back at least half the length of the 40 foot bus; which he said was parked, “damn near straight with Chicago.”

Upon impact, “the Durango immediately caught fire,” Meyer explained, saying, “The driver of the Durango succumbed to her injuries prior to the arrival of emergency personnel.”

Officials have not released the victim’s name, pending further investigation and notification of the woman’s family.

Because some neighbors and several people at the scene believed the non-operational bus was possibly inhabited by people believed to be living inside the vehicle, once firefighters extinguished the fire, they began searching the bus for additional victims.

Firefighters search for survivors inside a bus that caught fire when a speeding SUV went airborne and smashed into it head-on. John Strangis photo

No other victims were found inside the bus or the victim’s SUV.

After the blaze was knocked down, firefighters used the “Jaws of Life” to conduct an extensive extrication process to recover the driver’s body from her destroyed vehicle.

“This was something else and we didn’t expect what we came out to,” Diaz solemnly said after the fatal accident. “You don’t see that every day and I don’t wish this on anybody. It’s pretty sad that something like this happened.”

Alcohol and/or drug intoxication have not been ruled out as contributing factors in the the collision.

Despite that, Diaz took the opportunity to speak out against driving while intoxicated.

“Don’t drink and drive and don’t do drugs. Don’t do none of that stuff, because look at that,” Diaz said, motioning towards the still smoldering wreckage of the two vehicles. “It don’t get you no where. No where at all, but in a morgue and having people mourn for you.”

CHP’s investigation is active and ongoing.

Anyone with information about the incident or who witnessed the deadly crash is encouraged to immediately contact CHP Officer Brunson at (951) 769-2000. Callers can remain anonymous.

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Contact the writer:

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Trevor Montgomery, who recently moved from Riverside County to Shasta County, runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, The Valley Chronicle and Anza Valley Outlook as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident.

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 27 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 14 grandchildren.

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