Two men from San Jose died near the top of Sonora Pass when the moving truck they were in went off a steep curve on Highway 108 and landed in Deadman Creek about 75 feet below the paved road surface in Tuolumne County, a California Highway Patrol spokesperson based in Jamestown said Wednesday.
The men were identified as the 47-year-old driver and his 29-year-old passenger. CHP personnel in Jamestown were still trying to contact next-of-kin for both men and their names were not released. The 2006 International box truck they were in was carrying household items from somewhere in the Bridgeport area on the east side of Sonora Pass.
California Highway Patrol investigators were not sure when the crash occurred, only that it was discovered about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday in the vicinity of the 9,000-foot elevation sign on one of the steepest sections of the winding road that crosses over 9,624-foot Sonora Pass.
The men in the box truck were heading downhill from the top of the pass and westbound at unknown speeds when the driver lost control, failed to negotiate a sharp right hand turn, crossed the opposing traffic lane, struck a tree and a rock, and went down into Deadman Creek.
Someone driving past noticed the truck in the creek down below the road and managed to get to a location with cell phone service and called for help about 12:30 p.m. Tuesday.
Members of a search-and-rescue team, from Mono County or Tuolumne County, were in the area on unrelated training or a mission and they came to help. Forest Service firefighter EMTs also responded but Forest Service law enforcement did not.
The first CHP unit from Jamestown was among the last responders on scene because the crash location is more than 60 miles from Jamestown, and it takes about 80 minutes to drive it one-way at legal speeds.
The eastbound, uphill lane of Highway 108 was blocked or closed several hours while a tow truck crew and others worked to get the truck out. The creek drainage below Highway 108 is eroding, unstable dirt and rock in places, and it’s packed with vehicle-sized boulders in others. Caltrans and Forest Service firefighters assisted with traffic control.
Highway 108 is CHP jurisdiction and the spot where the truck came to rest in Deadman Creek is Forest Service jurisdiction, a CHP Sonora spokesperson said Wednesday. A hazmat team was called out to the crash scene, but it was not clear Wednesday if the hazmat team removed any fuel or other pollutants, caused by the crash, from Deadman Creek. Maps show the crash area is part of the Stanislaus National Forest. The crash area is close to but not inside the Emigrant Wilderness.
It was determined the two men were not wearing seatbelts. Alcohol and/or drugs were not initially determined to be factors in the crash. An investigation was continuing.
Contact Guy McCarthy at email@example.com or 770-0405. Follow him on Twitter at @GuyMcCarthy.