Woman killed on Echo Summit was reaching academic goals
Annette Lentz was apprehensive about taking her car up Highway 50 to South Lake Tahoe on Friday. Fierce winds snapped branches and the road was hammered with sheets of rain and snow mixed with rain.
Instead, she rented a 2002 Pontiac Grand-Am and braved the drive to her South Lake Tahoe time-share with her best friend Christine Owlett.
It was the last drive they would ever take.
At 5:07 p.m. on the top of Echo Summit, a tree, more than 100 feet tall and more than 6 feet in diameter, fell on the rented Pontiac with the best friends inside.
Authorities said the two died instantly.
Lentz, 32, was a UC Davis student working toward a doctorate in genetics. Owlett, 41, was working toward an advanced degree in chemical engineering. No family members could be reached for Owlett.
Ken Kaplan, the professor who oversaw the six-person lab at Davis where Lentz worked, said she was working on cell biology for cancer research.
“We all gathered on Saturday after we heard,” Kaplan said. “I know as the week goes on we’re going to miss seeing her. She overcame a lot of things in her life. She never knew her father, she was estranged from her mother. She had just given a presentation, one of her best with new and exciting data. On one hand she went feeling happy and on the other hand it’s a tremendous waste.”
A Caltrans loader had to be called to remove the vehicle. California Highway Patrol closed traffic for three hours.
“The tree pretty much collapsed the passenger compartments all the way to the floor boards,” said Jeff Michael, battalion chief with Lake Valley Fire Protection District.
“Extrication was done within an hour after we arrived,” Michael added. “The weather was very precarious with several more trees falling in the vicinity while we were extricating the victims.”
Art Melton, Lentz’s 43-year-old brother, described his sister as enjoying a good game of pool, fine wines and the blues. She loved her three brothers and nieces and nephews.
“I always talked to her about her schooling, how far she was and what she was doing,” Melton said. “I always joked to her about becoming a scientist. Basically I asked her what jean company she was going to work for. She knew I was just joshing around with her. She was almost where she wanted to be.”
Ralph Melton, another brother of Lentz, said his phone has been ringing constantly from friends located in Texas, Louisiana and California. Both brothers spoke from Michigan, Lentz’s home state.
“Every time she got a chance to come home she was so busy she barely had time to herself,” Ralph Melton said. “She was always trying to spend time with everybody. She always felt bad when someone got left out. She was the youngest of the four of us and she was the referee. We all had our disagreements and everyone would talk to her about it.”
Ralph Melton, 36, plans to travel to California to handle his sister’s affairs. Melton is expecting to be a grandfather soon. Lentz was about to become a great-aunt.
“I do want to visit the place where it happened,” he said. “I don’t know if they do the same thing in California, but in Michigan people put flowers where somebody died and I would like to do that. Not just for Annette but Christine also.”
William Ferchland may be reached via e-mail at email@example.com
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