A Gardnerville family is mourning the loss a 4-year-old boy who died Sunday afternoon after being hit by a runaway U-Haul truck in a relative's driveway near Spring Valley.
Four-year-old Mason Geist was transported from the scene of the 3:45 p.m. accident to Carson Valley Medical Center, where he was pronounced dead shortly after arrival.
"He was a kick in the pants. He loved Batman," relative Chad Lathrop said. "It's an awful situation. The kid was his life."
Lathrop was referring to Gardnerville Ranchos resident and stone and tile contractor Robert Geist, who, along with Mason, was helping Lathrop move out of their residence at 980 Cavelti Road.
Lathrop said Robert was backing up the truck to his house, which is located on an incline, when he put the vehicle in park and jumped out to check the clearance. Lathrop said Mason was still in the cab of the vehicle when Robert exited, leaving the driver-side door open. He described a terrible scene as the truck started rolling down the driveway.
"Robert didn't want Mason outside when they were backing up," Lathrop said. "He jumped out for a second, and all of a sudden the U-Haul took off."
Lathrop said they all were chasing the truck down the hill trying to reach Mason.
"The U-Haul hit a bump," he said, referring to the moment Mason fell out of the vehicle. "My son tried grabbing him, but at that time the wheel ran him over."
Lathrop said the U-Haul's automatic transmission gearshift was defective and should not have engaged without pressure on the brake.
"Mason must have bumped the gearshift. It took off," he said. "But he was so little, there was no way he could have hit the break."
Lathrop said the gearshift had been touchy to begin with.
"We turned it on, just hit the lever and it goes," he said. "A police detective called and said they were coming to impound the vehicle and examine it for mechanical issues."
U-Haul Company of East Sacramento President Aaron Anderson said the company is cooperating with the investigation.
"First and foremost, U-Haul expresses our heartfelt condolences to the Geist Family," Anderson said in an e-mail to The Record-Courier. "U-Haul is cooperating fully with those investigating this tragedy. Accordingly, until the appropriate experts have had an opportunity to examine the facts and determine findings, any comment from U-Haul would be premature and not helpful."
In a press release issued Monday by the Douglas County Sheriff's Office, Undersheriff Paul Howell said an the investigation into the incident is ongoing.
"They were helping us," Lathrop said of the move. "Robert is feeling so bad. He feels he needs to be punished. But he didn't do anything wrong. It should have never gone into gear like that. It was a horrible accident, but it wasn't neglect on Robert's part. That kid was his life."