Nevada Union High School grad dies in big rig wreck near South Lake Tahoe
How to help
The Peterson family has organized a GoFundMe campaign to support Daniel’s surviving child and partner. Donate here.
“To be honest with you, I get up at two o’clock in the morning and I cry until six,” Dan Peterson said, his voice quivering. “I want to be strong for the rest of my family, but it’s hard,” he said.
It was 8 p.m. Sept. 7 when a Nevada County sheriff’s deputy came into his house and asked him to sit down. Peterson knew the young officer wanted to tell him something big when he pulled up to his house while taking his dogs for a walk.
“I told them, ‘Just tell me,’ but they said, ‘No, we should go inside,’” Peterson said. “When they finally told me I just stared at them.”
That morning his son Daniel Noah Peterson, 36, was involved in a fatal collision on Highway 50, near South Lake Tahoe. His big rig struck a Toyota Prius turning left in front of him. The double tanker fully loaded with 8,400 gallons of gasoline attempted to swerve left to avoid the Prius, causing the truck to tip over and create a fuel leak that left Daniel trapped inside his burning vehicle, reports state.
Daniel was officially identified weeks later through dental records.
The collision left the Peterson family stunned, devastated, angry and in search for answers.
“I want to know the details of the accident,” Peterson said. “I want to know why that driver pulled out in front of him. Didn’t he see the semi truck in front of him?”
Despite pleas from his wife not to look, Peterson searches the internet for news stories and any clues he could find.
“It hurts but I want to find out, I want answers,” Peterson said. California Highway Patrol of South Lake Tahoe recommended the El Dorado County District Attorney’s office pursue a vehicular manslaughter charge against the 28-year-old Prius driver. The decision to follow through with that charge is now up to the district attorney, Officer Jeff Gartner said.
Peterson asked officials on the scene if Daniel had his seat belt on at the time of his death — hoping to reveal whether he had tried to escape or if the truck tipping onto its left side blocked his way out. He was told the official cause of death was smoke inhalation.
“I have nightmares about how Daniel died,” Peterson said. “Smoke inhalation is one of the worst ways to go.”
According to Peterson, his son may have had a better chance of survival if he’d hit the other vehicle head-on. But he died the way he lived — always looking out for others.
Daniel was a fiercely independent, kind and constantly giving, his father said. Daniel didn’t need much to be happy and never asked for much. He was happiest to come home at the end of the day to pizza and a movie and spend time with his long-time partner Brianne Joppa.
If he was able to spend his days off enjoying outdoor recreation, which he fell in love in Cub Scouts, in elementary school – whether biking, martial arts, hiking that was more than enough for him.
As someone who valued doing things on his own, Daniel was even hesitant to ask his father for help at times. The last time his dad remembered Daniel asking for anything was when we he wanted to buy a motorcycle. He called his dad and tentatively asked if he could use his own father as a reference.
“Are you kidding, of course!” Peterson said, incredulous.
“He figured out life on his own and did it all on his own while still helping others along the way.”
Before the tragic highway collision, Daniel seemingly had just achieved the perfect life he worked so hard for.
After graduating from Nevada Union High School in 2003, he attained his certified nursing assistant license, eventually working at Golden Empire Nursing and Rehab Center in Grass Valley in the Alzheimer’s unit. There he would tell his coworkers it was his dream to become a big rig driver and took classes after work to make his dream come true.
Despite being able to make more money in long-haul driving, he stuck with shorter routes, adamant about being able to come home each night to Joppa.
The week he died his driving school loan was paid off, his truck was on its last payment and he was just about to announce to his parents that Joppa was 15 weeks pregnant after being told by a doctor they might not ever have a child.
“It was a lot of mixed emotions,” Peterson said of learning about his grandchild the day after his son died. “I lost my son, but a part of him is still living.”
According to Peterson, seeing pictures of Daniel and feeling the support from his church and community is helping him cope.
“After a tragic accident like this, how the people in this community responded, people that we don’t even know, who have brought food over, brought flowers over, just reaching out, that’s how I’m getting through this,” Peterson said.
“My wife and I were astounded — a lot of the time you only hear the negative but there have been so many people who have reached out and wanted to help the family.” Daniel is survived by his five siblings, who say they just wish they had one more hug, one more “I love you” from their older brother. Although his community and family have helped greatly, Peterson acknowledges he’s a long way from recovering.
“When I wake up in the morning, the first thing I get is the awful gut feeling in my stomach and remember Daniel’s dead,” Peterson said. ”My firstborn child, born on Thanksgiving Day.
Daniel’s Celebration of Life memorial will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday Sept. 28 at Twin Cities Church, 11726 Rough and Ready Highway, Grass Valley. It is open to the public and Peterson encourages attendance.
“I don’t know how I’m going to get through the holiday season,” Peterson said. “One radio station is previewing their Christmas songs for the holidays, and I don’t know how I’m going to do it. I just don’t know how I’m going to do”
Contact Staff Writer John Orona at firstname.lastname@example.org or 530-477-4229.
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