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1 dead in multi-vehicle Petaluma crash

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A 67‑year‑old woman died early Tuesday and three people suffered injuries in a crash involving six vehicles that closed Lakeville Highway for more than four hours, according to Petaluma police and fire officials.

Sonoma County’s emergency dispatchers began getting calls at 7:15 a.m. about collisions on Lakeville Highway near South McDowell Boulevard Extension.

A 19‑year‑old driver in a Chevrolet Silverado headed into Petaluma crossed double yellow lines into opposite traffic and hit two vehicles. One, a Prius, was driven by the woman who died, Petaluma traffic Sgt. Ron Klein said.

The driver also hit a Honda Accord driven by a 22‑year‑old man, Klein said.

Three other vehicles were hit as impacts pushed some into others and police late Tuesday morning still were determining how it unfolded from a crash scene that spread from the roadway to a nearby field with mangled vehicles and auto debris.

“Cars were hitting and flying everywhere,” said Sonoma resident Suzana Weltken who was headed south to work when her Mercedes was struck.

Petaluma firefighters and three ambulances responded. They found multiple people needing medical aid.

“There was a pickup truck in the middle of the road, flipped over, all smashed up. Two-three cars smashed up. One unrecognizable, which was a fatality. One was off the roadway,” described Petaluma fire Battalion Chief Jeff Holden.

A blue sedan that ended up in a field was so damaged firefighters aided the driver out through the windshield, Holden said. That man appeared to have a major head injury. He was taken to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital along with the 19‑year‑old driver and a 50‑year‑old passenger riding in the Silverado pickup, Klein said.

Petaluma police issued an alert warning drivers the highway was closed there due to a fatality. The highway was opened about 11:30 a.m. but police warned traffic remained heavy in the area.

The commute‑hour crash meant there was steady traffic in both directions. Lakeville Highway is a major connector route to the greater Bay Area.

Weltken saw the start of the collision chain, involving a full‑sized pickup heading into Petaluma.

“I could see it coming down the road and see it veer across the road. It hit a truck in front of me, just the mirror,” she said.

After the pickup hit the truck’s mirror, it hit the front of her SUV, which then struck a car in the adjoining lane, apparently sending it spiraling across the road and into the field. “It was definitely nothing anybody could do once he veered into traffic. The luckiest people were the kids in the truck ahead of me,” she said. “Their vehicle was barely damaged.”

Weltken believed that after hitting her, the pickup had a head‑on crash with the vehicle carrying the woman who died.

The woman’s body remained inside the wreckage as police investigated. Firefighters covered what was left of her car with a tarp.

Several people stopped to take in the scene, try to help or who’d been caught up in the backup.

John Bearce of American Canyon had just pulled off of the highway into a business when the crash happened. “It was loud. I looked over to my left and there was stuff flying everywhere.”

Bearce ran to a destroyed vehicle to see what could be done. “One person didn’t make it. Her car was leaking gas. I had the fire extinguisher there just in case.”

A professional truck driver, Bearce was shaken by the scene. “This is the first one I’ve seen where there was a fatality. That lady, she isn’t going home tonight.”