Ru­n­away truck ‘dis­in­te­grated’ when it crashed into SLO home

The Tribune (SLO) - - Local - BY DAVID MIDDLECAMP dmid­dle­[email protected]­bune­

Imag­ine the strength it took for team­sters to cross the Cuesta Grade via stage­coach more than a cen­tury ago — stand­ing on the brake, pulling the reins of their horses.

To­day, the av­er­age driver has more horse­power un­der the hood of a car than a six-horse stage­coach. The road, now High­way 101, has been im­proved, but the grade can still be a dan­ger­ous place.

A pre­vi­ous Photos From the Vault col­umn doc­u­mented the ru­n­away semi­trailer that ca­reened down the Cuesta Grade and passed through Mis­sion Plaza in down­town San Luis Obispo. Mirac­u­lously, the man be­hind the wheel sur­vived the crash with only mi­nor scratches.

Tim Ryan wrote this story of a less for­tu­nate truck driver, which ran in the Tele­gram-Tri­bune on Jan 25, 1984. Jon Hast­ings and Bill Schlot­ter con­trib- uted to the ar­ti­cle.


A truck driver was killed and an­other man nar­rowly es­caped death Tues­day night when an 18-wheel trac­tor-trailer rig swerved off the Cuesta Grade and plowed through an of­fice, apart­ment and a 150-foot tree.

The driver of the truck, Rene Martinez Sanchez, 30, of On­tario was killed in the crash that ripped apart the cab of his truck and spilled his cargo of card­board boxes over a wide area, the High­way Pa­trol said.

“The truck dis­in­te­grated when it ran through the build­ing,” CHP dis­patcher Tino Tor­res said to­day.

It took a search team three hours to find Sanchez’s body un­der sev­eral card­board boxes and parts of truck cab.

“The truck looks like it ex­ploded when it hit the tree,” said CHP Sgt. Dick Rus­sell.

The truck was car­ry­ing sev­eral thou­sand pounds of flat­tened card­board.

A res­i­dent at the scene said when the truck hit the build­ing it sounded “like a plane had come through the roof.”

“It was a ru­n­away truck,” Tor­res said. “He

just lost con­trol, pe­riod. What­ever the cause is, I can’t tell you.”

The ac­ci­dent oc­curred about 7:30 p.m. at 1415 El Camino Real, near the base of Cuesta Grade at Stage­coach Road, three miles north of San Luis Obispo.

The truck left skid marks for about 100 feet where it swerved across two on­com­ing traf­fic lanes be­fore crash­ing through a build­ing that housed the United Realty of­fice in front and a rental apart­ment in the rear. The build­ing was once the Cuesta Motel.

The truck then de­stroyed a small green­house be­fore knock­ing over a large eu­ca­lyp­tus tree and slid­ing across the tree over San Luis Obispo Creek. The tree acted like a bridge al­low­ing the truck to cross the creek and travel about 100 feet up the east­ern side of the bank, Rus­sell said.

De­bris from the crash was spread over one acre of the steep, heav­ily forested area. The truck’s en­gine was found 15 feet south of the crash site.

Ken Van Valer, 65, who lived in the apart­ment at­tached to the realty of­fice was in his kitchen when the truck hit.

“I was … wrap­ping a steak when it hit. I couldn’t guess what had hap­pened. I thought a plane had gone through the roof or some­thing.” He was not hurt. Van Valer said he started to go out­side to in­ves­ti­gate when he re­al­ized, “There was no front door.”

Vn Valer, a col­lec­tor of chess sets, lost more than 30 sets in the ac­ci­dent as well as sev­eral plants and other per­sonal items. He kept a large gar­den next to his res­i­dence, which also was de­mol­ished.

Van Valer had rented the apart­ment for about four years and said he “wasn’t sure if he had any in­sur­ance to cover his losses.

“I’m only a renter,” said Van Valer, a food ser­vice worker at Sierra Vista Hos­pi­tal in San Luis Obispo.

“Boy, it looks like a bomb ex­ploded here,” he said. “But I guess God was on my side, huh?”

“And to think I was com­plain­ing about a leak in the roof. Now I’d just like to have a roof. What a mess.”

Van Valer spent Tues­day night with his sis­ter, who lives in San Luis Obispo.

The 40-year-old build­ing is owned by Pete Del Vaglio, bro­ker of United Realty Co. He had been us­ing the build­ing as an of­fice for about two years, he said.

The truck de­stroyed about half of the 2,500square-foot build­ing but missed Del Vaglio’s ex­pen­sive busi­ness com­puter sys­tem and files that were on the op­po­site side of the of­fice, he said.

The bro­ker does not know yet whether the build­ing can be re­stored.

TIM RYAN Tele­gram-Tri­bune

Fire­fighter sur­veys the scene of a fa­tal semi­trailer crash on the Cuesta Grade near San Luis Obispo in 1984. The wheels of the truck lie amid card­board boxes.

TIM RYAN Tele­gram-Tri­bune

Ken Van Valer walks out of the ru­ins of a of­fice that was de­stroyed by a fa­tal semi­trailer crash on the Cuesta Grade near San Luis Obispo in 1984.

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