Teenage boy trapped in cab after big rig crashes into Blue Lakes; father killed
Published: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 7:57 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 3, 2013 at 6:06 p.m.
Rescuers freed a 15-year-old boy from the crumpled wreckage of a delivery truck that plunged into Blue Lakes early Wednesday, leaving his head only inches above the water.
The boy, who was trapped next to the body of his dead father, spent about 90 minutes submerged up to his chest in the frigid lake before firefighters managed to cut him free from the truck.
The boy was conscious and talking as firefighters worked feverishly to prevent the truck from slipping deeper into the lake and free the teen, said Pat Brown, deputy chief of the Northshore Fire Protection District, whose firefighters performed the complex rescue.
“He was very, very lucky,” Brown said. “This was definitely one of the most intense rescues Northshore has ever done.”
The father, a 45-year-old McKinleyville man whose name was not released by authorities, had taken his son with him early Wednesday on a delivery run.
The 5:55 a.m. crash started when a Cotati man driving a big-rig tanker carrying milk lost control on a curve and overturned on Highway 20, a busy connector route from Highway 101 in Mendocino County north of Ukiah to Upper Lake in Lake County.
The big-rig, which was heading west, skidded into the oncoming lane and sideswiped the delivery truck, which was heading east with a load of frozen food, the CHP said.
The delivery truck careened off the highway into a large oak tree, CHP Officer Kory Reynolds said. Pulling the tree with it, the delivery truck then slid down a steep embankment into the lake.
Water filled the compartment, submerging the father but stopping at chest level of the pinned youth, Brown said.
The front end of the cab had collapsed against the length of the boy's legs, holding him to the seat.
His father remained seat-belted next to him.
A huge contingent of emergency workers responded to the crash, including 16 Northshore firefighters, two Lakeport firefighters, CHP officers and Lake County sheriff's deputies.
Firefighters found the father had already died and the boy trapped. They initiated a complex rescue involving ropes, multiple divers and specialized equipment typically used on land.
“We secured the truck and sent divers into the water to secure it more,” said Brown.
During the rescue two firefighters stayed on top of the truck, talking to the teen to explain what was happening. Divers below used equipment to cut the crushed metal and push the dash from his legs.
“He was pretty calm,” said Brown.
Blue Lakes is a narrow, long lake just over the Lake County line from Mendocino County. The water was about 50 degrees on Wednesday and firefighters feared the youth was suffering from hypothermia.
Paramedics had warmed IV bags ready to help raise his body temperature.
One Northshore diver was underwater for 50 minutes. Despite wearing the thickest wetsuit available, he still needed warming due to the water's extreme cold, Brown said.
The boy and the driver of the milk tanker, Donald Morton, 58, of Cotati, were both flown to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento, the CHP said. Both appeared to have moderate injuries, Brown said.
Removing the massive milk tanker from the rural highway was the easy part of the crash cleanup. It took three big-rig tow trucks to pull the cab and trailer from the lake and up the steep embankment, said Brown.
The effort also included cleanup of about 2,500 gallons of spilled milk and 50 gallons of spilled diesel fuel and oil into the lake.
Because of the extensive effort, the highway was closed until about 2:30 p.m. when CHP officers opened it to one-way controlled traffic.
It wasn't expected to be opened fully until about 6 p.m.
Northshore firefighters, who cover Upper Lake, Nice, Lucerne and Clearlake, frequently find themselves working on water rescues, but never anything like this, Brown said.
“They did an unbelievable job,” Brown said.