Two best friends from prominent ranching families killed in West Marin crash

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Longtime friends Joey Corda and Nick Nunes seemed inseparable, their lives entwined as members of prominent West Marin‑Petaluma families with deep roots in dairy ranching and agriculture.

Their families had been close for decades. Although they were 10 years apart, Corda and Nunes had similar personalities and bonded over deer hunting, fishing, barbecues and a love of family and fun. Each were family men with two young children, and they lived on neighboring West Marin ranches.

“They’ve been best friends for quite a while now. They’ve known each other forever,” said Melissa Thornhill, Nunes’ younger sister.

Her 32-year-old brother and Corda, 42, died Friday night in a crash that sent shock waves through their large families and the extensive dairy and farming communities.

Speed and alcohol were likely factors in the crash on rural Novato Boulevard, according to the Marin County Coroner’s Office.

Corda had been driving Nunes home around 9 p.m. when midway between their ranches, near Stafford Lake, he lost control of his pickup, ran off the road and hit a tree. Corda hadn’t buckled up, but Nunes had.

Witnesses told officials they’d heard a vehicle speeding and then the sound of a crash.

Both men died in the impact and had to be cut out of the heavily damaged truck, the Coroner’s Office said. Autopsies and toxicology testing will be done this week.

Corda’s dog, Lulu, also died in the crash after being thrown from the pickup bed.

Distraught family members Monday struggled with their loss. “We’re all friends and family. It’s pretty devastating,” said cousin Jerry Corda of Petaluma.

Sonoma County Supervisor David Rabbitt, who represents the southwest end of the county, said, “These are two longtime, southern Sonoma County ranching and farming families. They have a lot of great friends in the area, a lot of relatives. It’s totally tragic.”

Joseph Alfred “Joey” Corda was a fifth generation member of the dairy ranching family that settled in the picturesque West Marin region. His great‑great-grandfather of the same name came to Petaluma in 1885 from Switzerland’s Italian region, said Gary Corda, Joey Corda’s uncle.

Joey Corda was raised on the family’s 1,200‑acre ranch where he lived with his longtime girlfriend, Sara Bowman, and their two young girls. His parents, Alfred and Annette Corda, as well as his brother and sister, Jeff Corda and Janeen Brady, and their families, also live on the property.

The Petaluma High School graduate worked about 20 years with the Marin Municipal Water District where he was remembered for his knack for customer service, Gary Corda said.

The uncle credited Joey and Jeff Corda for making sure the family ranch remained an open space through an agreement with the Marin Agricultural Land Trust. He said his nephew worked full time and had spent much of his time off keeping the ranch a showpiece in the bucolic valley.

“Joey was only able to enjoy it 42 years but it’s going to go down as a legacy for everyone,” his uncle said.

Family members of both men described them similarly, saying they worked hard and were always ready to help and have fun.

“He was always the center of the party, people loved to be with him,” Gary Corda said of his nephew. “If you needed help, regardless of what it was, he was there.”

Corda’s unique laugh meant he could always be found in a crowd, said Jerry Corda. “Wherever you were, you knew that was him.”

Through her tears, Thornhill recalled her joking brother’s innate ability to hand out nicknames. “He was full of laughter and light. He was always kind hearted.”

“They were similar,” she said of the two best friends. “Joey was the same way … They’d help you with open arms.”

Nick Nunes also went to Petaluma schools. After high school, he joined his father working at the Hunt & Behrens feed and ag supply store in Petaluma, where they had longtime friends and connections with area ranchers and farmers.

A spokesman at the iconic feed store Monday said Nick Nunes had been a great employee for 14 years but that it was too difficult to comment further.

“He was related to us all,” the man said.

Nick, his wife, Nicole, and their two young boys lived on ranching property in West Marin, but the rest of his family remained in Petaluma. He is survived by his parents, Fran and Dawn Nunes, and his sisters, Thornhill and Lyndsey Sandoval, and their families.

Family members of both men Monday were working on memorial plans.

You can reach Staff Writer Randi Rossmann at 707‑521-5412 or randi.rossmann@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter@rossmannreport.

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