Three people were killed this morning when a large truck travelling down Highway 154 crashed into an upper State Street home. The residence, located at 4111 State Street, was completely destroyed, and rescue crews are working to find a fourth body.
So far, reported County Fire spokesperson David Sadecki, the bodies of an adult male, adult female, and young child have been recovered. Rescue teams are currently sifting through the rubble in an attempt to locate the fourth possible victim.
The brakes on the truck — a large tractor-trailer hauling two full loads of gravel — reportedly gave out as it was travelling southbound down the 154 grade, causing it to careen out of control. The driver, said Sadecki, steered the rig through the Highway 154/State Street intersection and into the parking lot between Hope Ranch Inn and Palapa restaurant.
After hitting two parked cars, the rig slammed into a house located at the end of the lot and spilled most of its contents onto the structure. Dispatchers received the accident call at 6:53 a.m., and there are currently dozens of rescue vehicles on the scene. Firefighters are using hand tools and buckets to clear away the gravel, but high temperatures are hampering efforts somewhat.
A neighbor named Chuck — who was awake at the time of the incident — told The Independent the noise of the collision sounded much larger than a car crash. “It sounded like a train accident,” he said, “but I was thinking, ‘How could there be a train accident around here?’ I hear sounds back here all the time, but that was bad.”
Chuck said he and a few other men immediately ran out to help. While they kicked out the truck’s back window to reach Garcia, Chuck began searching for survivors.
A chef at Palapa who had just parked her car in the lot suffered a near miss as the out-of-control rig flew past her, tires smoking.
The truck — the cab of which is red and has Morales Trucking written on the side — is still laying where it stopped, and workers are waiting to haul it as well as the two cars it totaled out of the way. The cars were pushed onto the property itself, and the rig reportedly also caused damage to the warehouse behind the residence.
The truck, owned and operated by 61-year-old Joaquin Garcia Morales of Oxnard, was experiencing brake problems before getting on the 154, but Garcia said he thought he fixed whatever was wrong. Garcia had been hauling two leased trailers filled with gravel picked up at a Santa Ynez quarry. He was on the first of three trips to Santa Paula.
CHP spokesperson Jeremy Wayland said Garcia was taken to Goleta Valley Hospital with minor injuries. Wayland said an investigation is underway to determine whether the accident was caused by driver or mechanical error, and it’s not clear at what point down Highway 154 — which does not have any runaway ramps — Garcia lost control.
Garcia reported that he tried everything to stop — deploying the foot, hand, and engine brakes — but couldn’t. An initial breathalyzer test failed to show any alcohol in his system, and Wayland said he has volunteered for a blood test to be conducted at the hospital.
[UPDATE, 12:45 p.m.]: Captain Sadecki with County Fire reported that the missing person, who authorities were worried may have been killed, is believed to have left the scene just prior to the accident.