Kevin MacMillan
North Lake Tahoe Bonanza

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April 23, 2012
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Man, 31, killed in big-rig crash at North Tahoe runaway truck ramp (w/ updates)

INCLINE VILLAGE, Nev. — Details are unclear regarding circumstances that led to a fatal big-rig crash Monday afternoon at the runaway truck ramp near the intersection of highways 431 and 28 on Lake Tahoe's North Shore.

The incident occurred about 2:50 p.m. Monday. An 18-wheeler hauling long pieces of wood and other items appeared to have struck the ramp at a high speed, but did not catapult off.

The man was identified Tuesday as Eric S. Holton, 31, of Gardnerville. No one else was hurt in the incident and no other damage was reported.

Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Chuck Allen said the ramp was effective in stopping the truck and its trailer.

“However, the load did not stop, and it continued through the cab, killing the driver, essentially crushing the driver,” Allen said.

It took several hours for officials to clear debris out of the truck's cab before they could extricate the body.

The truck came to rest near the ramp's edge, officials said, powering through the four large piles of rock and sand that serve as a barrier between a truck stopping versus flying off the inclined plane and landing in the residential neighborhood below.

NHP is investigating the incident. It is unclear how fast the truck was going when it hit the ramp, or whether other factors, such as driver distraction or brake failure, played a role.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked contact Trooper Chris Kelly at 775-687-0400 regarding case number NHP-120423450. A timetable for the investigation to wrap up is unknown.

While the ramp did its job Monday to stop the rig, it failed on June 18, 2010, when a man driving an out-of-control semi hit the ramp and vaulted off it, striking a tree and crashing into a private home at 645 Woodridge Circle.

The vehicle overturned and caught fire, setting the house ablaze. The driver — Frederick Matthews, 41, of San Diego — was trapped inside the truck cab and died.

A local woman — Gwendolynn Ewasko — was the sole occupant in the house at the time of the collision. She escaped unharmed. Four cats died in the fire.

According to an NHP investigation, a brake malfunction on the semi was the largest contributing factor to the incident.

The incident brought into question the safety of the ramp, considering it was built to stop trucks.

In interviews after the incident, Magruder said the department was assessing the ramp, and everything was being considered, from possibly widening it to adding additional speed-slowing barriers to purchasing the property of the destroyed home owned by Damon and Suzanne Ewasko.

In an interview Monday, Magruder said the department is still in the middle of a statewide runaway truck ramp study; a timetable for its completion is not known.

“We're looking at everything — safety, functionality — on all state truck ramps,” Magruder said.

Perhaps hampering the study's completion is the fact a lawsuit was filed in 2011 in Washoe County District Court by the Ewaskos, who've owned the Woodridge Circle home since 2004.

The civil suit names four defendants, — NDOT; Knowles Trucking Co. of Redding, Calif., and Rafael Diaz, who both are alleged to have owned, operated and maintained the truck; and Andrew Hamilton, a local real estate agent believed to have sold the Woodridge property to the Ewaskos.

According to the state attorney's office, the suit is making its way through the legal system, and no other updates are known.

At the time, the June 2010 incident marked the third major truck crash in the past nine years at the ramp, including a May 2002 incident when a truck carrying gypsum wallboard and a hydraulic lift was also sent airborne.

In that instance, the driver, 23-year-old Manuel Ortega-Portillo, suffered moderate head injuries and was airlifted for medical attention. The truck came to rest next to the same house on Woodridge Circle, which was damaged slightly from flying debris.

The Lake Tahoe runaway ramp is among four in the state of Nevada; two are on U.S. Highway 50, between Carson City and Spooner Summit; the fourth is on Highway 163 near Laughlin in Southern Nevada.

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Tahoe Daily Tribune Updated Apr 28, 2012 03:49PM Published Apr 23, 2012 06:03PM Copyright 2012 Tahoe Daily Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.