Two Santa Rosa women on their way to dinner with their husbands were killed Saturday evening by a suspected drunken driver when his pickup rear-ended the sedan they were riding in as it sat in traffic on Highway 12 near Farmers Lane.
Susan Hufford, 53, and her mother-in-law, Sharon Hufford, 74, were riding in the rear of the Toyota Camry driven by Randolph Hufford, 54, with his father Donald Hufford, 74, in the front passenger's seat when it was struck from behind by a full-sized GMC Sierra pickup, CHP Sgt. Erik Egide said.
The women were killed instantly by the impact. The deaths mean Randolph Hufford lost his mother and wife in the accident, while Donald Hufford lost his wife and daughter-in-law.
"It's brutal. Just a tragedy," Egide said.
The pickup showed no sign of braking and struck the sedan with such force that it pushed it forward 40 to 50 feet and completely crumpled the trunk and rear seat of the vehicle, Egide said. Eastbound Highway 12 was closed for several hours Saturday evening as emergency personnel swarmed the scene.
The driver of the pickup, 30-year-old Nicholas Lee Tognozzi of Rohnert Park, was arrested on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter and driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, Egide said. He also is suspected of using his cellphone at the time of the accident, Egide said.
The accident occurred around 5:20 p.m. in an area where eastbound traffic on Highway 12 often backs up several hundred feet west of the Farmers Lane intersection. Fast-moving eastbound drivers often have to brake to avoid crashing into stopped traffic there.
The Camry was stopped in the right lane of Highway 12 a few hundred feet west of Farmers Lane, just before it widens into four lanes. The pickup was traveling at 55 to 65 mph when it collided with the Camry, Egide said. The impact pushed the Camry into a third vehicle, a Suzuki occupied by a couple who were not injured.
Witness Sara Rogers passed the scene of the crash moments after it occurred and said the pickup was on top of the sedan. She said several vehicles pulled over and people appeared to be trying to help the victims.
"I drive with my kids in the back seat all the time," Rogers said later as she surveyed the scene from an office complex overlooking the closed highway. "It's scary."
Santa Rosa firefighters who responded to the scene used the Jaws of Life during the rescue effort. The father and son were transported to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital with moderate and major injuries.
CHP officers and Santa Rosa police diverted traffic from the highway at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds exit, down Bennett Valley Road to Farmers Lane.
Tognozzi's Facebook page indicates he is a 2002 graduate of Analy High School and works as a solar panel installer at a company in Novato.
(You can reach Staff Writer KevinMcCallum at 521-5207 or email@example.com. On Twitter @citybeater.)