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Official: Truck crushes California house, killing 3

  • Santa Barbara County fire fighters search the site where a heavily loaded gravel truck lost its brakes and smashed into a home Tuesday Aug. 24, 2010, killing a man, woman and child, in Santa Barbara, Calif. (AP Photo/Keith D. Cullom)

LOS ANGELES — A runaway truck hauling tons of gravel flew off an embankment Tuesday near Santa Barbara and crushed a home, killing a man, woman and child, authorities said.

The truck careened from State Highway 154, barreled across a street and hit two parked cars before plunging down a driveway, over the embankment and onto the house, Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Sadecki said.

"Completely flattened it," he said of the home.

The truck was hauling two loaded trailers and displayed a sign indicating it could carry 26 tons of gravel, Sadecki said. A California Highway Patrol website that logs traffic incidents said its brakes failed.

The trucker may have been trying to avoid a nearby hotel when he went into the driveway, Sadecki said.

Searchers scrambled to dig out rubble and gravel under the truck to reach the victims.

Neighbors had said a fourth person might have been in the house, but Sadecki said it was later determined he had left before the crash.

Next-door neighbor Erasmo Zapien, 64, said he heard an enormous crash and saw the family's house collapse.

"Everything fell down," he said. "It was completely down."

The truck driver, identified as Joaquin Garcia Morales, was treated for a minor facial cut after the vehicle landed on the 1,000-square-foot, wooden home that had been built more than 50 years ago.

It was one of two homes on the lot that were surrounded by mini-storage units. Both sat below the embankment and could not be seen from the roadway.

Barbra Trouche, who runs the front office at Aegis Medical Systems, called 911 when a patient who had just left ran back inside and said there had been a wreck.

"He saw the truck barreling through the intersection all the way to the end of the driveway," Trouche said.

Trouche went to look and noticed that cars belonging to two employees had been plowed aside by the truck.

Coroner's officials did not immediately identify the victims.

Zapien identified the family living in the house as Leo Leon, 23; his wife Lorena, 27; and their 7-year-old son. Zapien did not name the son. The family had moved to the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico, about five years ago, he said.

Leo Leon worked as a chef and Lorena Leon as a housewife, he said.

Zapien said he recently saw the family in good spirits preparing to celebrate Leo Leon's 24th birthday on Friday.

"They were very friendly, very good people," he said.

Santa Barbara is about 75 miles north of Los Angeles. The crash site is not known for accidents. State Highway 154 is flat for about 1 miles before it reaches the intersection.


AP Writers Sue Manning and Thomas Watkins in Los Angeles contributed to this report.

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