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One dead, two injured in crash at Alliance Redwoods Conference Grounds

  • Rescue personel stabelize a victim of an accident at Alliance Redwoods Conference Center, Friday Feb. 24, 2012. One person was killed when the car plowed through a sitting area for visitors waiting for a canopy tour just outside of Occidental. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2012

A 61-year-old Petaluma woman was killed Friday when a speeding car ran off Bohemian Highway north of Camp Meeker, plowed into a gazebo where she and a half-dozen people were standing and launched over a creek at a conference center.

The driver and her passenger were hospitalized, but no others were injured in the freak crash, at 1:25 p.m. at the Alliance Redwood Conference Grounds.

"It could have been a lot worse," said CHP Sgt. Bob Barr.

Camp Meeker Vehicle Accident

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The woman killed wasn't identified pending notification of her family. She was with her husband and at least one friend waiting to go on a popular zipline "canopy tour" through the redwoods, authorities said.

It was unclear why the driver, Johnella Thomas, 74, of San Francisco, suddenly veered off northbound Bohemian Highway, a curvy road where signs warn "slippery when wet" and potentially icy conditions. Conditions were clear and dry Friday.

Barr said a driver behind Thomas about a half-mile before the wreck saw her 2010 Mercedes C300 traveling at 25 mph to 30 mph, near the posted speed limit.

The witness said Thomas suddenly accelerated and pulled away, going so fast she could barely stay on the road.

He estimated the Mercedes' speed at 70 mph.

"He lost sight of the car, then came around the corner and saw dust and carnage," Barr said.

The victim was standing near an open redwood platform covered by a pop-up gazebo, where customers of the canopy tours gather before being escorted to another section of the conference center to visit the redwoods, said Jim Blake, the center's executive director.


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