By AMY LINDBLOM
and LENORE RUTHERFORD
Eddie Olson's car was only 10 days old, but after Monday's fatal Parrotts Ferry Road crash, it was so damaged that California Highway Patrol officers at first couldn't discern the make and model.
Patrol investigators spent about three hours yesterday at Ahearn's tow yard, checking the car's remains to see if anything mechanical contributed to the high-speed crash.
Eddie Olson, his brother Tony, and their friends Becki East and Mike Fagnani were heading home from a Memorial Day afternoon of swimming at Natural Bridges in Calaveras County. All died in the 4:40 p.m. crash.
After crossing the Parrotts Ferry Bridge, Eddie Olson began climbing toward Columbia at a high rate of speed. When his 2003 Neon reached the sharp curve on the south side of the bridge, say Highway Patrol officers, it had reached 90 mph.
As it took the curve, the speeding Neon almost hit a car driven by an Arnold man on his way home from work. That driver, Darren Schmidt, 36, stopped. Instead of being hit, he saw Olson's car hit a curb, skid across the road and catapult about 250 feet through the air over the side of a steep ravine that leads down to New Melones Reservoir.
The Neon rolled several times and landed in dense brush about 200 feet down, after crashing through trees.
Schmidt, who could not get cell phone reception in the canyon, drove about two miles to call for help.
The Olsons, East and Fagnani were dead when the emergency crews reached the scene.
The CHP is still investigating the crash, though patrol spokesman Tom Wills said speed was definitely a factor.
Ahearn's Towing on Longeway Road was called to the scene to hoist the car from its resting place. The car's perch was so precarious, it was deemed too dangerous to send emergency workers to remove the bodies from the car. Mechanic Robert Lunde drove the tow truck that pulled the car from the ravine.
"It was a challenge to get it out without losing any car parts," he said.