Petaluma woman killed in crash was active in community, business
Published: Saturday, February 25, 2012 at 10:50 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, February 25, 2012 at 7:18 p.m.
Petaluma resident Nola Mary Wolf wasn't even planning to ride the zipline when she and her husband, Chuck Wolf, his sister and her husband traveled to Sonoma Canopy Tours near Camp Meeker on Friday.
Only Chuck Wolf, 64, and his sister, Mary Lou Krieger, visiting from Indiana, were going to to explore the tops of the redwoods in celebration of Krieger's birthday.
Nola Wolf, 61, “was just there to take pictures,” her husband said in a quiet voice Saturday.
But in a still-unexplained freak accident, she was killed when a car above them on Bohemian Highway suddenly accelerated and flew over an embankment.
They were waiting together, seated side-by-side in a wood-and-canvas gazebo with three others at the edge of the parking lot, which also serves the Alliance Redwoods Conference Grounds.
Nola Wolf was the only one struck by the Mercedes Benz that slammed into her corner seat, then continued airborne across Dutch Bill Creek, where it crashed.
Chuck Wolf said he heard the car's revving engine and squealing tires in the seconds before it struck, and said to his wife, “There's either already been an accident or there's going to be one.
“And then the car came over,” he said, recalling its headlights and bumper coming at them. “I knew it was coming. I could hear it. You can't see from there, the highway, so we didn't know to move.”
He thinks his wife saw the car, too, but “there was no where for her to go. She didn't have a chance to duck or even get out of the way.”
In the minutes that followed, amid the shattered two-by-fours from the gazebo and strewn debris, he looked frantically for his wife of nearly 40 years, whom he had met at a Lutheran church gathering in Indiana.
“I kept saying, ‘Where's Nola? Where's Nola? She was sitting right next to me,'
Then he looked across the parking lot and saw her sprawled on the pavement, motionless, perhaps 75 feet away.
“I couldn't understand why the paramedics weren't hurrying to do anything,” he said. “I kind of yelled at them to do something, so someone tried to put oxygen on her, but that didn't do anything.”
Someone else got a defibrillator kept at the conference center, but it was too late.
“It's unbelievable when you see them put the blanket over someone,” Wolf said Saturday. “There's no hope.”
Nola Wolf worked in information technology systems at Chevron in Richmond for 17 years and, with her husband, operated what was Wolf's Christmas Tree Farm for two decades on Petaluma's Liberty Road, where he still resides.
She was a longtime member of the Sonoma County Human Services Commission and was still doing some contract work for Chevron from home while helping her husband in his financial planning work and, until last year, a tax service he ran.
They were preparing to retire soon, Chuck Wolf said.
Now, he said, “I don't know what I'm going to do.”
Authorities were still trying to determine what prompted the driver of the 2010 Mercedes C300, San Francisco resident Johnella Thomas, to accelerate suddenly and lose control on the curving highway.
Thomas, 74, and her passenger, Lillie Richardson, 75, were seriously injured in the crash. Both were listed in fair condition Saturday at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, a nursing supervisor said.
CHP Officer Jon Sloat said investigators would be looking into whether some kind of medical crisis may have caused Thomas to accelerate to what one witness told authorities was about 70 mph after she had been traveling at closer to 25 or 30 mph.
Her car also has been impounded so investigators can check for mechanical malfunctions, Sloat said.
Wolf wondered if Thomas might have been trying to slow on a curve and accidentally hit the accelerator rather than the brake.
When a CHP officer eventually drove him home, he noticed there were no skid marks on the highway.
“I guess they'll figure it out,” Wolf said. “It doesn't make much difference to me. I just can't imagine killing somebody and living with that.”
A prayer service will be held for Nola Wolf at 7 p.m. Thursday at Parent-Sorenson Mortuary in Petaluma, following a visitation that begins at 11 a.m., her husband said.
Family members will fly her remains home to Indiana the next day.
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