DANVILLE (CBS SF) — A woman was killed early Monday morning after a tree toppled onto Interstate Highway 680 in Danville and crashed into a passing automobile, authorities said.
The California Highway Patrol said the incident took place at 8:55 a.m. in the northbound lanes of I-680 north of the El Cerro Boulevard off-ramp in Danville.
The impact of the dead 50- to 60-foot tree — which toppled from a hillside next to the highway — nearly sliced the silver Mercedes 350 sedan in half, trapping the gravely injured driver inside the crumpled vehicle.
“It is out of the norm,” said CHP Sgt. Eric Butawan. “You expect a deer to run in the roadway or typical crash during commute time but for a tree? It’s kind of unusual.”
Emergency crews were able to extract the body, but the driver was declared dead at the scene. She was identified by the coroner’s office as 58-year-old Lyudmila Beyzer of Danville. Beyzer was a doctor with John Muir Health in Walnut Creek.
“We are deeply saddened to hear about the sudden and tragic passing of Dr. Lyudmila Beyzer,” said a statement from John Muir Health. “She was a member of the John Muir Health Physician Network for 15 years and will be greatly missed. Our thoughts are with her family, friends, patients, colleagues and staff at this very difficult time.”
The accident forced the closure of all lanes except the far left one, triggering a massive morning commute backup. “It was during the morning commute so thankfully there was only one vehicle involved,” said Butawan.
All lanes reopened around 12:30, according to the CHP.
Local arborist Darrel Wise who viewed chopper footage from the scene said the tree was a dead pine tree with a decaying root system, and likely fell onto the freeway in seconds. “Do you see the root ball right here has gone completely out of the ground which means those roots just snapped,” said Wise.
One of Wise’s employees who gave his name as Marcos said he travels on Highway 680 every day and pointed out the tree to a friend last month. “I told him, ‘Look at this, Paco! That tree for sure needs to come down,'” said Marcos.
“I know Caltrans spends a lot of time and effort on trees I don’t know why this one wasn’t taken care of but I believe it should have been taken care of awhile ago,” said Wise.
KPIX 5 reporter Mary Lee said she observed other dead trees along I-680 in the same area as Monday’s incident.
Caltrans released a statement saying, “Caltrans expresses its deepest condolences to the family of the victim of this incident. The safety of the traveling public is our highest priority. We are currently examining the causes of this unfortunate incident.”