A harrowing crash near the Southern California town of Buellton Thursday left a tractor trailer driver dead and three people in a mangled BMW hanging perilously over the side of a bridge on a mountainous stretch of Highway 101.
According to the California Highway Patrol, a gravel truck was traveling northbound in the fast lane when it struck the BMW from behind. The truck then smashed through the guardrails and careened into the creek below, where it burst into flames upon impact. The driver, Charles Allison Jr., was killed instantly.
The collision oriented the BMW toward the guardrails and drove it through, but the crumpled car became snagged on part of the bridge, leaving it dangling over a 100-foot drop.
Emergency responders included eight fire engines, two water tenders, a Santa Barbara County fire helicopter, a Calstar air ambulance, and the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s office. A Navy construction crew from Port Hueneme who were stuck in the ensuing traffic jam near the crash assisted the rescue effort by securing the BMW with a forklift they had been hauling.
Rescuers pulled a 10-year-old girl from the vehicle, then a 10-month old baby girl, and the girls’ mother, 36-year-old Kelli Lynne Groves, from the wreckage. All three were taken to a nearby hospital with injuries but were in stable condition.
Hazmat crews were dispatched to the wreckage below the dangling BMW to clean up about 60 gallons of diesel fuel that spilled into the creek from the truck’s external tanks. California Fish & Game officials were also on scene to assess the damage to wildlife near the crash scene and in the creek.
The crash also severely damaged the bridge, which was closed until inspectors could determine whether it was safe.
Authorities have not determined what caused the big rig to strike Mrs. Groves’ vehicle and plummet off the bridge, but the crash remains under investigation.
Photo by KTLA-TV