San Francisco firefighter, who planned to marry in June, dies in head-on crash west of Santa Rosa
A San Francisco firefighter who recently helped battle the deadly Camp fire in Butte County was killed early Wednesday morning in a head-on collision on Occidental Road that also left another driver in critical condition.
The firefighter was identified as Steven William Pacatte, 34, of Monte Rio. Pacatte’s fiancee, Colleen Bialas, is pregnant with the couple’s first child, and the two were planning to marry in June 2019.
According to CHP and the San Francisco Fire Department, the crash occurred as Pacatte attempted to pass a garbage truck on the narrow, two‑lane rural road. He drove his pickup into the path of an oncoming Suburban.
“It was foggy,” said CHP Officer Greg Wiskus, who is investigating the crash. “The truck and Suburban collided head on.”
The Suburban driver was identified by CHP as Digna Torres, 46, of Santa Rosa. Her condition is reportedly stable and improving.
Pacatte had worked as a firefighter in San Francisco since 2016. Records online show he had previously worked for the Tiburon Fire Protection District and as a seasonal firefighter for Marin County.
Pacatte’s uncle, James Pacatte, said his nephew was a kind man, good with kids, who had a promising future ahead of him.
“He was friendly with our children, our grandchildren and he was a nice young man. And he was on his way to, I’m sure, a great career in the fire department,” Pacatte said.
Residents of the area west of Santa Rosa where the crash occurred have previously identified the intersection of Occidental Road and Piezzi Road as hazardous. The crash happened just west of the intersection.
When a fatal crash occurred at the intersection in 2015, residents told The Press Democrat that a traffic signal should be installed at the intersection of Piezzi Road and Occidental Road. Shortly after, a letter to the editor from another resident said that “there have been numerous accidents at this intersection.”
Resident Brian Lopez, who walked from his nearby home to the intersection of Piezzi and Occidental this morning to see if he could help, agreed that section of road is dangerous. Waving drivers away from the crash scene and toward the turnoff onto Piezzi Road, Lopez wore a neon orange jacket that was highly visible in the thick fog.
He said he had just bought the jacket, thinking it could be useful for the next crash at this busy “T” intersection corner.
“I know where I live right here is dangerous,” Lopez said. “I’m already putting it to use. I’ve only had it a week.”
Firefighters had to cut both drivers out of the demolished vehicles and they were rushed in ambulances to Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital. Pacatte died on the way. Torres was hospitalized in stable but critical condition, according to the CHP.
The 5:30 a.m. crash happened just west of Piezzi Road. A Recology garbage truck was headed east and Pacatte came up behind the slower‑moving truck and began to pass, moving into the westbound lane. The pass was legal, just not safe with the heavy fog, CHP Officer David deRutte said.
The vehicles collided driver’s sides, said Fred Leuenberger, acting battalion chief for Rincon Valley and Windsor fire, who responded with firefighters.
“Both patients were trapped,” Leuenberger said. Santa Rosa and Sebastopol firefighters extricated the drivers.
In the impact, the garbage truck also was hit. It had some damage but the driver was able to drive it away.
The crash closed Occidental Road for hours. The roadway, a rural route between west Santa Rosa and the west county, is a busy morning and evening commute pathway.
Wednesday, a GoFundMe page was set up for Pacatte’s fiancee, by staff at the Performing Arts Academy of Marin where she works. Katlin Vagelatos, the academy’s associate director, said she hopes people will offer support for Bialas even if they don’t know her.
“We would hope that they would support Colleen in this situation, because she’ll be a first-time mother and she deserves the support. And it will give her and her baby the opportunity to have the life and situation that they intended to have together,” Vagelatos said.
You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter@rossmannreport.