In search for missing skiers, officials find third man in Donner Summit train tunnel |

In search for missing skiers, officials find third man in Donner Summit train tunnel

TRUCKEE, Calif. – Search and rescue efforts Sunday and Monday for a pair of missing skiers turned up an unexpected find when Union Pacific crew members discovered a soot-covered man lying in a fetal position one mile inside Norden Tunnel 41. “Whenever we have a search, it’s standard procedure to call Union Pacific,” said Placer County Sheriff’s Office Lt. John Weaver. “We ask them to slow down, because we have guys and equipment criss-crossing the tracks. We don’t want our guys to get hit, and if the train slows down, it gives us an extra pair of eyes.” The eastbound train was on alert for the skiers reported missing Sunday from Sugar Bowl Resort. It traveled at a reduced speed through the tunnel with Engineer Phillip Tufi riding on the nose of the train as an outlook. According to a report from Tufi, after the man was spotted, the train stopped and the tunnel quickly began to fill with black, diesel engine smoke. “If a train had come through soon before, there would have been too much smoke to be up on the nose,” said Tufi in a phone interview. “But when the tunnel is clear, you can see into the alcoves and crevices. I asked myself, if I were a skier, where would I be?” Tufi and another crew member, Mike Weatherford, ran – ducking to avoid the smoke – back a quarter of mile. They retrieved the man and took turns carrying him to the train’s head end, where the man then climbed aboard on his own accord. Tufi described the man as a white male, emaciated, thirsty and dirty. “He was black like he had been dipped in tar,” Tufi said. “When we picked him up, we weren’t sure what we were dealing with.” Once the train was outside the tunnel and within radio communication, train personnel contacted emergency services in Truckee. Representatives from Union Pacific police and first responders with the Truckee Fire Protection District met the train at the Amtrak station in Truckee, and the man was then transported to Tahoe Forest Hospital in stable location, Truckee Fire’s Gene Welch said. The man was somewhat talkative when speaking to the train crew, Tufi said, but when questioned by medical personnel he communicated only with nods. Aaron Hunt, director of corporate relations and media with Union Pacific Railroad, said the man reportedly showed signs of being hit by a train. The incident is currently under investigation by the Union Pacific police. “I don’t know how he got there in those weather conditions,” Tufi said. “It’s a 12-mile climb.” Though Tufi and his crew are employees of Union Pacific, they were operating a train owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway Company. BNSF was renting the tracks from Union Pacific. Norden Tunnel 41, at more than 10,000 feet long, burrows under Mt. Judah, a mile south of Donner Pass. According to other media reports, the PCSO reported the two missing skiers were found in good health early Monday morning at Sugar Bowl. Weaver said the man found in the tunnel was not one of the missing skiers. No further information is available at this time.

1 dead, 1 injured in Donner Summit train accident

Two pedestrians were struck and one killed by a train north of Lake Tahoe on Donner Summit Thursday afternoon. At about 3:30 p.m. Nevada County Sheriff’s and Truckee Fire Protection District personnel responded to reports of the collision in the Soda Springs area, according to a sheriff’s office press release. Upon arrival, Sydney Parks, 59 of Petaluma was pronounced dead and Alan Young, 22 of Davis was severely injured and taken to Truckee Forest Hospital. According to Young and other witnesses, the two were walking along the tracks believing it to be a trail when a train approached, said Keith Royal, sheriff-coronor, in the press release. The train, plowing the tracks, sounded its whistle and initiated an emergency stop, according to the release. In poor visibility Parks and Young accidentally moved into the train’s path while attempting to get out of its way, according to the release.

Railroad Society opens kids train

The Truckee Donner Railroad Society, in partnership with the Truckee-Donner Recreation & Park District, unveiled its new kids riding train in Regional Park on Sunday, Sept. 14 with a ribbon cutting ceremony, followed by the first official train rides. The train tracks, which loop around the park's playground, involved 700 volunteer hours, $12,000 cash donations, $8,000 in-kind donations, and approximately 9,000 screws to construct. The members of the TDRS have applied for a grant from Union Pacific to create a train learning system for kids. Children will be educated on the meaning of horn signals and crossing arms. Additional plans include a "Phase II" expansion of the track, the construction of a historically-accurate snow shed, and opportunities for historical railroad education. The next public train rides will take place (with a $2 suggested donation) from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. on Sept. 28, Oct. 11 and 25. To contribute to the Truckee Donner Railroad Society or to become a member, visit

Internet for cops: Police, sheriffs use the Web to track criminals, file reports

Technology today allows people to shop for groceries online, make bank transactions from home or even find a perfect mate. Local law enforcement agencies are hopping aboard the technology train and using the Internet to glean information and fight crime. The Web is an excellent tool to report crimes, track sexual predators and update local data, said Placer County sheriff’s captain Jeff Granum. At South Lake Tahoe, police, El Dorado County sheriff’s personnel and the FBI were instrumental in arresting a number of child pornography predators within the past year. El Dorado, Nevada and Placer sheriff’s departments use the Internet extensively, including intra-agency communication, public information, search engines like Google, legal codes and Department of Motor Vehicles records. “We rely on it quite a bit, it’s an extremely valuable tool,” said Nevada County sheriff’s Sgt. Joe Salivar. “It’s made our job a whole lot easier and more efficient.” Social networking Web sites continue to increase in popularity and can be a useful medium for investigators to track suspects. Placer sheriff’s deputy Russ Potts, school resource officer for North Tahoe Middle and High School, will look at students’ pages as needed but does not use it as a means to snoop for personal information. Nevada County sheriff’s department also uses the site as a resource, which has even led to an arrest. In December, helped investigators track and arrest a man accused of shooting two people in Clearlake. “We do use on occasion … just to track people, or link people” said Salivar. But the department doesn’t set up decoy pages to lure predators – yet. They don’t have the time or resources to spend designing sites targeted at sex offenders, but will do so if a case calls for such tactics. More than investigations, local law enforcement agencies say they use the Internet daily for basic research, communication and as a resource for the public. The Placer County sheriff’s department Web site provides online report forms, information about who is in custody and where they are located, and a link to the Megan’s Law Web site displaying photographs and addresses of local sex offenders. And while the Internet is a useful tool to fight crime, it is also a means to commit crime. High tech criminals use sites like eBay for identity theft and fraud. Truckee Police detective Bill Mardison said criminals will send phony e-mails that look similar to PayPal or bank account requests to update financial information. “In most cases those are hackers that make a Web site that looks like Bank of America or Wells Fargo … and they steal your account info,” said Mardison. County sheriff’s and police admit they depend on the Internet more now than even two years ago. In an age of the information superhighway, local law enforcement agencies say they are trying to keep up with the fast guys. “We’re just searching for info, that’s what a lot of police work is,” said Placer sheriff’s Lt. John Savage. Local law enforcement agencies use the Internet in their work now more than ever. Tracking predators, researching suspects, witnesses and victims, and trading information between agencies are just a few of the ways the Placer and Nevada County sheriff’s departments and Truckee Police use the Web to fight crime. “As the Web progresses there are more advantageous places to go,” said Placer County sheriff’s deputy Russ Potts. “It’s a great place for information.” Agencies primarily use the Internet for: – E-mail and intra-agency communication – Research on stolen goods, places and people – Tracking registered sex offenders (Megan’s Law) – Criminal records – Linking people via social networking Web sites – Crime reporting – Public information

SLT City Council awards bid for bike park oversight

South Lake Tahoe City Council awarded a $67,000 project in a 5-0 vote for construction oversight and design of the Bijou Bike Park track to an Ohio firm at its Friday meeting. Jim Marino, the city's assistant public works director, said Pump Trax USA came in as the responsible low bidder over Colorado-based Progressive Trail Designs, scoring higher base on city staff's review. The project has $100,000 allocated from the general fund for the bike park's pump track for the 2015/2016 fiscal year in March. The Bijou Bike Park project has hit bumps since it was introduced in 2011. The city put out the RFP for the pump track portion of the bike path on March 30. The overall design includes two pump tracks, a BMX racetrack, a children's learning area and other improvements at Bijou Community Park. Marino said that the Bijou Bike Park Association hadn't been consulted in the selection. "We wanted to look at this independently from our staff without leaning one way or the other," Marino said. However, post-selection, he said that the association agreed Pump Trax USA was the appropriate contractor. The council also accepted a $98,000 grant from the South Lake Tahoe Police Canine Association to purchase, equip and train a police dog. Lisa Maloff donated the money to the association. The police department currently has two K9 officers, Quatro, assigned to Offier Matt Morrison and Tara, assigned to Sgt. Jason Cheney. According to staff documents, $38,000 will be budgeted to procure a third police dog and for training both the dog and its handler. Another $60,000 will fund a fully equipped K9 unit police vehicle. After the first year, estimated annual costs for a third K9 unit would be $21,000 covered through the general budget.

Sierra train service may be coming down the tracks

TRUCKEE – Transportation officials hope a faint light at the end of the tunnel will soon materialize into passenger trains crossing Donner Summit on a regular basis between Reno and the Bay Area. The idea of utilizing the historic tracks over the mountain range for more than freight trains and the California Zephyr’s passage east and west once a day is just that – an idea. But tie it to the success of the Capitol Corridor rail service between Sacramento and Oakland and the idea could become a reality. The extension of the Capitol Corridor route to Reno/Sparks would mean stops in Soda Springs and Truckee for the four daily round trips between Oakland and Sparks, said Linda Aeschilman, a senior planner with the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency. The extended service would also make stops in Auburn and Colfax. “We’d be going on reliability,” Aeschilman said. “Two to four round trips a day.” When the service begins is dependent on funding and cooperation from Union Pacific Railroad, which owns the tracks the proposed route would use. Aeschilman is set to take the proposal around to potential stakeholders, like the Town of Truckee. “It’s out there a ways,” Aeschilman said of the extension. “Right now it’s a concept, one that people are excited about.” That includes Truckee Town Councilmember Josh Susman. Susman sits on the Nevada County Transportation Commission and has served on an advisory committee to the Placer County Transportation Planning Agency on the rail extension proposal. “I can’t imagine a downside to this,” Susman said. “The funding question is always an issue.” Key to the success of the venture would be how the train service would tie into the regional bus transportation network in the Truckee-Tahoe area, Susman said. If either one is sketchy potential riders will stick to their cars. “One of the goals is the reliability and timeliness,” he said. “It would be running off the efficiency of what the Capitol Corridor now enjoys.” Dan Landon, the executive director of the Nevada County Transportation Commission, said the key to the proposal is funding. Depending on improvements needed on the tracks over the Sierra and purchasing rolling stock, extending the Capitol Corridor service to Reno could range from more than $30 million to $100-million plus. That would be funded by the private and public sectors. Landon said two studies done in the early and late 1990s pointed favorably toward passenger rail service over the Sierra. The target market would be people heading to the mountains to recreate and to Reno to gamble – without their cars, he said. “If it was marketed correctly, a service in the Truckee-Tahoe area would not only be viable, but have the potential to make money,” Landon said.

Truckee officials ready for hazardous duty

Though the long-term effects of last month’s chemical spill near the agricultural station on Interstate 80 are still unknown, Truckee’s emergency services managers are acutely aware that it could have been much worse. Had the incident involved, for example, a large spill of anhydrous ammonia – a caustic chemical used in farming applications and routinely transported across the country via truck – rather than the relatively benign solvent heptane, Truckee’s emergency response crews might have faced a full-fledged disaster. With hundreds of train cars, many containing toxic chemicals, passing through town on the Union Pacific tracks each month, even more tanker and delivery trucks driving by on Interstate 80, and the trans-Sierra fuel pipeline running underground, Truckee fire Chief Mike Terwilliger knows that the hazardous material emergency response team maintained by the Truckee Fire Protection District could be called upon at any time. “There’s a cost to it, but in my mind it’s a service this community needs,” Terwilliger said. “We’ve got a railroad coming right through town. There was a derailment right out here in 1988 or something. “You look at the tank cars that go though this town sometimes and it’s pretty spooky – there’s some weird stuff … I’m actually amazed that we haven’t had more incidents.” Prepared to respond While there have been few major accidents involving toxic chemicals or other hazardous materials in Truckee, the 15-person hazmat team managed by the Truckee Fire Protection District is prepared to deal with almost anything that does occur. In existence since 1991, and made up of employees of the Truckee, Donner Summit, North Tahoe and North Lake Tahoe fire departments, as well as the Truckee Sanitary District, the local hazmat team received a big boost in 2001, when the Placer County Office of Emergency Services supplied them with a hazmat command truck loaded with approximately $500,000 worth of equipment. The gear came through a contract with Placer County that requires Truckee Fire to respond to hazmat emergencies in eastern Placer area. “Because it’s contracted with Placer County, we do take it over to Lake Tahoe and that area,” Terwilliger said. “It’s available to respond to eastern Placer County, or if there’s a major spill, it’ll go to western Placer County if they need another team over there.” Additional gear for the hazmat team has been supplied by Nevada County and the Truckee Fire Protection District, meaning that the Truckee hazmat team has an arsenal of sophisticated detection and containment equipment at its disposal when responding to unknown chemical spills throughout the region. However, they do not provide cleanup services. “The company that caused the spill is responsible for hiring a company to come out and clean it up,” Terwilliger said. “We don’t have that capability. We’re more for first response, scene safety and [chemical] identification.” Typically the Truckee Fire hazmat team will respond to approximately 12 hazmat incidents per year, Terwilliger estimated, though not all of them require drastic action. “Sometimes they’re not as spectacular as closing the freeway for eight hours. A lot of times it’s an odd smell in a building that people can’t figure out. And we have detectors and monitors on there that help tell us what it is,” he said. Coordination with the hospital According to both Terwilliger and Beverly Brink, director of emergency services for Tahoe Forest Hospital, one of the most difficult aspects of dealing with a large-scale hazmat incident can be keeping people who have been exposed to toxic chemicals from contaminating others. “You worry about the ones out in the field, but then you know that the fire department is there, and they’re giving you a heads up. It’s when you have people arriving in the ER before we even know about the disaster that causes problems,” Brink said. Tahoe Forest Hospital is equipped with decontamination showers and tents, protective clothing for staff, hot water in the ambulance bay for hosing people off and other equipment for dealing with victims who have been exposed to toxic chemicals. All emergency room staff are trained to handle such victims, and other hospital personnel have additional training in dealing with potentially hazardous substances, said Brink. In order to keep its staff up to speed, the hospital conducts two disaster scenarios each year in order to analyze any procedural weaknesses and other challenges they might encounter, and past scenarios have dealt with chemical spills and hazmat disasters. But while the hospital staff has been trained to deal with such incidents, the limited space and staff at the hospital would mean that, in the event of a large-scale disaster, some victims might have to be treated in the field or at other facilities. “Would we be able to handle the influx [of victims] right here at the hospital? Probably not for 100 people,” Brink said. “But we have systems in place where we can hopefully keep those who are less injured farther away from here, and have it so that the more injured are brought to the hospital.” Chemicals on the tracks While tanker trucks and other vehicles transporting hazardous materials on Interstate 80 are a big concern for Truckee’s hazmat team, another significant risk comes from the hundreds of tanker cars rolling through town on the Union Pacific Railroad tracks. “Typically, in (the Truckee) area, about five percent of everything we haul would fall into the category of hazardous,” estimated Union Pacific spokesman John Bromley. Bromley said most chemical releases are caused by leaking seals or valves, or the improper securing of cars rather than derailments. If a chemical spill was detected on the railroad in the area, Bromley said, Union Pacific would send specially trained agents to help coordinate local responders and call in any additional resources from their Roseville or Omaha, Neb., offices. However, the thought of a 20,000 gallon tanker car breaking open and spilling toxic chemicals in town or in the Truckee River is enough to make Chief Terwilliger anxious. “If we get a train derailment, it’s far beyond anything our hazmat team can deal with. We can identify what spilled, we can get everybody away from it, but those are environmental nightmares,” he said. “We’d go and work closely with the police department and everything, but we don’t want that to happen here. It would shut this place down for months.” HazMat gear: HazMat team gear includes equipment to do chemical analysis of unknown substances and to detect the presence of chemicals in the air and water surrounding a spill. In addition, the Truckee HazMat team has: — Six Level A suits, which are fully-encapsulated and sealed suits with integrated gloves and boots and a one-way exhaust valve. The wearer of the suit must breath via a self-contained breathing apparatus which is worn as a backpack. HazMat crews use Level A suits when dealing with unidentified liquids or solids and with extremely toxic chemicals. The cost for each suit is approximately $1,000. — 12 Level B suits, which are plastic body suits that are not fully-encapsulated. A breathing apparatus can be worn either inside or outside the suit. HazMat crews use Level B suits when dealing with unknown powders in a stable environment or when dealing with a known substance. The cost for each suit is between $100 – $150. — Multiple Level C suits, which are essentially the same as what fire crews wear when fighting fires. Level C suits are used during immediate rescue situations and when entering a flammable environment. The most expensive of the three, Level C suits cost approximately $2,000 and typically cannot be reused if chemicals are spilled on them.

Donner divers clean up lake

TRUCKEE – Nine rescue divers clad in long underwear under their drysuits dipped into the rippling 51 degree water at Donner Lake’s west end boat ramp last week. In teams of two or three their heads disappeared below the breezy surface and they began their search – for garbage. As part of ongoing under-water search and rescue training, rescue divers from the Placer County Sheriff’s Department, Truckee Police Department and the Truckee Fire Protection District logged under-water hours while pulling sunken tires, pipes and junk off the lake’s bottom. “Today we found everything from beer cans and bottles to a picnic table and tires,” said Truckee fire Capt. Rod Brock, training officer for the joint-agency dive team. “The police department was going to do a surface clean up (on the lake), and we needed to schedule a dive anyway, so it just naturally came together. I think that we will just make it an annual event.” Last year, dive teams responded to a drowning at Boca Reservoir, and a drowning and a near-drowning at Donner Lake. “The dive team is used for rescue, not for sustained searches,” said Truckee fire Capt. Craig Harvey, the dive team supervisor for both the Boca and Donner Lake drownings. “In cold water drownings, there is still a one hour window in which the person can be resuscitated without brain damage.” After that, the window gets smaller.” To prepare for such rescues, divers train monthly and practice everything from ice diving to low-visibility search techniques. These trainings take serious planning because diving at elevation in waters that are often below freezing increases health risks for anyone venturing into the deep. “You could spend a lot of time in 70 degree waters in a thin wet suit,” Brock said. “But in the cold waters that we have, stress is added to the body; hypothermia is the main issue.” At elevation, divers can only safely venture to about 80 feet, which is equivalent to about 120 feet deep at sea level, according to Truckee Police Sgt. Tim Hargrove. Divers must also carry extra weight to fight buoyancy and plan for slower ascent rates. But once such factors have been considered, diving in Donner, Lake Tahoe and other local waters can be safe and even enjoyable for recreational divers. It’s no Barrier Reef, but might still be worth the thrill. “You see fish; mostly trout. A lot of people dive for crawfish,” Hargrove said. “Here, it’s more about just getting in the water and diving, not finding ship wrecks.”

Police clear protesters, allowing nuclear waste train to reach France

FRANKFURT, Germany (AP) – A train carrying spent nuclear fuel from German power plants crossed the border to France Tuesday after police cut free protesters who had chained themselves to the rails close to the frontier. Police said the train was held up for an hour after a man and a woman evaded police posted along the route to attach themselves to the track near the town of Hagenbach. The train, carrying five containers of radioactive waste, had set off from the nearby station at Woerth, where it was assembled from wagons arriving from three German nuclear power plants further west. It was bound for a reprocessing plant in the French port of La Hague. The hold up was a brief, last-ditch success for German anti-nuclear activists, who last month staged massive demonstrations and caused more serious delays to a shipment of reprocessed waste returning from France to a storage site in northern Germany. Earlier Tuesday, some 2,000 officers ringed a nuclear plant at Philippsburg in Baden-Wuerttemberg state to protect against activists trying to reach the tracks to block the shipment, police said. Hundreds were arrested, police said. Police also removed Greenpeace activists who had chained themselves to a rail wagon due to carry waste from the Grafenrheinfeld plant in Bavaria and on Tuesday occupied a bridge along its route. At least 15 activists were arrested. The German government ”knows perfectly well that reprocessing in France is systematically contaminating the environment,” complained Veit Buerger, a spokesman for Greenpeace. Further north, police said they also intercepted a handful of protesters near the Biblis plant in an attempt to prevent a repeat of the delays last month to a shipment to the Gorleben dump in Lower Saxony state, the traditional focus of anti-nuclear protests. That transport was slowed by at least 18 hours after four activists attached themselves to the track using an elaborate system of pipes and chains. Police cleared hundreds more from sit-down protests. Germany sends spent nuclear fuel from its power plants to France for reprocessing under contracts that oblige it to take back the resultant waste. The transports were halted three years ago after radiation was found to be leaking from the containers. The government last year struck a deal to scrap the country’s 19 nuclear plants, though the shutdown could still take over 20 years to complete. Protesters say the shipments are still unsafe and want Germany’s nuclear plants shut down quickly. They aimed to make the transports so expensive that the government and power companies will be forced to halt them. Police presence to protect Tuesday’s transport was costing the state of Baden-Wuerttemberg $917,000, the state interior ministry said. Sit-down protests were banned, with police warning that offenders forcibly removed would be fined a ”carry-away fee.” In Paris, French Greens party spokeswoman Maryse Arditi called for the shipment to be halted, saying that the intended route through the outskirts of Paris in the middle of the night – could pose ”extremely grave” risks.

UPDATE 8:30 a.m.: One Amtrak train pulled to Reno, one remains stuck near Truckee

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) ” More than 150 people remained on board a train stuck in the Northern California mountains near Truckee this morning after a snow plow fell through the tracks and blocked its path, officials said. Two Amtrak trains and about 400 had passengers were initially stranded after the accident Friday. One train was pulled to Reno, Nev., and its 165 passengers were put up in a hotel, Amtrak spokeswoman Karina Romero said. The other train, which was headed from Emeryville to Chicago, was still in the mountains. About 60 passengers were taken by bus back to the San Francisco Bay area overnight, while 155 stayed on the train to wait for the line to reopen, Romero said. The train had heating and lights and passengers were given food, Romero said. No injuries were reported. A Union Pacific spokeswoman, Zoe Richmond, confirmed that the company’s equipment was blocking the tracks but had no other information.