The California Highway Patrol has released the names of two men who died when a truck careened off Highway 108 crashed into Deadman Creek below Sonora Pass in Tuolumne County earlier this week.
The driver was identified as Salvador Ponce-Espinoza, 47, and his passenger was Jorge Alberto Maciel, 29, both of San Jose, a spokesperson for the Sonora area CHP said Thursday afternoon.
Ponce-Espinoza and Maciel were in a 2006 International box truck that 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 on Highway 108 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.
The creekbed where the truck came to rest is 50 to 75 feet below the paved road surface, according to the CHP. 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 Tuesday afternoon. Public safety first responders came from both sides of Sonora Pass to help.
Members of a search-and-rescue team were in the area on unrelated training or a mission, and they were among the first on scene. Forest Service firefighter EMTs also responded, along with personnel from the U.S. Marine Corps Mountain Warfare Training Center at Pickel Meadows, and from Mi Wuk Sugar Pine Fire Protection District. People who took part in the multi-agency recovery and salvage operation donned helmets, used climbing hardware and ropes, and at least one team member stood by to do swiftwater rescue if necessary while the responders toiled in the rock-lined, brush-choked bed of Deadman Creek.
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.
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