Petaluma teen paralyzed in Lake Tahoe diving accident dies in Highway 101 crash
Published: Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 7:22 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, August 7, 2011 at 7:22 p.m.
The 19-year-old Petaluma teen who died in a car crash on Highway 101 Sunday was identified as Danny Cox, a Petaluma High School track star who’d become paralyzed after a diving accident one year ago at Lake Tahoe.
On Sunday at about 5:30 p.m. Cox was driving on the highway north of Novato in his specially outfitted 2005 Dodge Magnum pickup when the vehicle left the road and hit an oak tree.
There were no skid marks to suggest he’d been trying to slow prior to the collision, said CHP Officer Chris Rardin.
Witnesses told the CHP he’d been travelling between 60-70 mph when he hit the tree, Rardin said.
A Marin County Coroner’s official on Monday identified Cox as the driver. He was alone in the truck.
An investigation into the crash was continuing Monday by CHP and the Marin County Coroner’s Office.
Cox was paralyzed from the chest down August 10, 2010 after making a shallow dive at a South Lake Tahoe beach.
Family members had said Cox was running toward the lake and in 2 to 3 feet of water, when he did a “flat dive,” like a belly flop.
At that moment, he’d told them, a wave created by a boat’s wake “pushed in on his head.”
While he apparently struck the lake bottom, there was no obvious cut or bruise to his head, according to his family. But he broke his neck and damaged his spinal cord.
At Petaluma High Cox was a track standout with a great ability to long jump. He’d graduated from Petaluma High and was planning to start classes at Santa Rosa Junior College in fire science.
The vacation dive changed his plans. Instead Cox was hospitalized and in rehab for several weeks before he was able to return home.
His family, friends, teammates and classmates rallied behind him, and so did the greater Petaluma community, which raised tens of thousands of dollars to help with his medical costs.
The outpouring also offered tremendous psychological support to him and his family.
Last fall’s alumni football game between Casa Grande and Petaluma High raised money for Cox, as did the annual Carousel Fund, an all-volunteer organization dedicated to raising money to help families with children who suffer catastrophic illness.
There was a golf tournament, several restaurant fundraisers and a bank fund set up at First Community Bank.
In a Press Democrat newspaper story last October the teen expressed gratitude for all of the support.
But he also expressed his frustration at the changes in his life, especially his inability to use his hands.
“I don’t even care if I ever walk again. I just want to be able to use my hands,” he had said to his mother, Maureen McGowan.
Marin County CHP Officer Chris Rardin Monday said he didn’t know how long Cox had been driving.
The pickup was outfitted with special equipment to allow him to drive.
Rardin, the CHP spokesman, said how the truck had been altered wasn’t available. “It was pretty well destroyed by the impact,” he said.
“When we got there the car was pretty much unrecognizable,” said Novato Fire District Battalion Chief Mike Hughes, whose crews were first on the scene.
He said the pickup's license plates indicated a disabled driver.
There were no tire tracks leaving the road north of Olompali State Park, and debris from the truck was scattered 300 feet, Rardin said.
Hughes said the vehicle was so badly damaged it took 18 minutes for rescuers to fully clear the victim's body, but there were no signs he had survived the impact.
The crash at one point backed up traffic for more than 13 miles from Novato to the Cotati Grade north of Petaluma.
The crash scene, and even the specific tree, is known for crashes, Hughes said,
“We've gone on a number of accidents at that very same location in the past. I don't know what the issues are to be honest,” he said.
-- Randi Rossman and Jeremy Hay, The Press Democrat
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