SANTA CRUZ MOUNTAINS (CBS SF) – One worker was killed and another injured Thursday afternoon when they were struck by a work truck as they attempted to clear a massive slide from Highway 17 in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
An eyewitness told KPIX reporter Maria Medina at the scene that one of the workers had died of his injuries.
The accident happened shortly after 12 p.m. right as Medina was finishing an earlier live report on the slide. Near the end of the report, a car can be heard honking. It turned out that was a driver trying to get the attention of a CHP officer to inform him of the accident.
“A woman driving on Highway 17 was honking and screaming and yelling and she just wouldn’t stop,” Medina said later. “She was trying to get the attention of a CHP Officer.”
The driver, who was too shaken up by what she had witnessed to talk on camera, told KPIX 5 privately she was driving past the mudslide when she saw a construction worker crushed beneath the wheels of a dump truck.
But what she didn’t see was the second worker who was trapped but still alive beneath that same truck.
“It’s extremely, extremely tragic. It touches close to home,” said CHP Officer Trista Drake. “Obviously, these people are standing on the side of the road putting their lives at risk every day.”
CHP officers and firefighters worked feverishly to free the injured man. Medina said the injured worker was moving his hands as others helped him.
Meanwhile, the crash victim’s co-workers watched helplessly, overcome by emotion.
“The workers were visibly shaken up. It was such a sad thing to witness,” said Medina.
The injured man was actually pinned under the work truck in the accident. Once he was extricated, the worker was transported to Santa Clara Valley Medical Center.
The man who died in the accident was identified as Bobby Gill, 54, a 15-year employee of Graniterock. The injured man was identified as 33-year-old Stephen Whitmier of San Jose.
The men were contractors who work for Graniterock, a Watsonville-based construction company, as opposed to Caltrans employees. The company released a statement Thursday afternoon.
“Graniterock is devastated today by the loss of one of its beloved team members. We are cooperating with authorities and working with them to determine what went wrong,” the statement read. “We don’t have a lot of details surrounding the incident just yet, but will continue to gather details.”
Construction work in the area was halted as authorities investigate the incident.
The massive slide slammed hundreds of pounds of rock and dirt onto Highway 17 early Tuesday, forcing the northbound lanes of the main traffic artery through the Santa Cruz Mountains to be shut down.
The slide happened at West Vine Hill Road in Scotts Valley and while it primarily affected the northbound lanes, the entire highway was closed for hours Tuesday as crews tried to determine how to clear the debris.
Caltrans officials on Wednesday said part of Highway 17 may be partially shut down for several days as crews work to contain a massive mudslide that is still moving.
Several mudslides have hit in the same area in recent weeks during the steady string of storms dumping rain in the region.
“This is definitely close to one of those act of God type of slide areas,” explained Caltrans engineer Devin Porr Wednesday.
The mudslide that came barreling down onto Highway 17 Tuesday was the third slide in the last several weeks.
“This is the biggest mudslide I’ve ever been involved with and have seen on this highway,” said Porr.
Caltrans says even if they had put a catch system for mudslides in the problem area prior to this week’s storms, it may not have done any good.
“The amount of material in this slide was unprecedented,” said Porr.
Caltrans officials said they are stretched so thin because of all the mudslides across the county that they’re bringing in contractors to help. As for permanent solutions for the area so future mudslides don’t happen, officials say they can’t put one in place until the rain stops.
There was no projected time to completely reopen the northbound lanes of Highway 17. Currently one lane of traffic is open in both northbound and southbound directions through the slide area.