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November 24, 2021

Felton Man Killed by Falling Tree While Driving

A San Lorenzo Valley man died after a tree randomly snapped and fell on his truck as he drove southbound on E. Zayante Road near Highland Avenue Friday, according to fire officials.

The 41-year-old Felton resident’s vehicle careened across the road and slammed into the forest on the opposite side around 1:20pm, killing him within minutes, Zayante Interim Fire Chief Dan Walters said.

“Because of the drought, trees can’t hold the weight they normally hold,” he said, adding while this live oak was mostly healthy, there was some rot at the base—resulting in the sudden snap. “We’re going to see a lot of that this weekend.”

At home with her three cats just up the hill, Connie Jones, 80, said she heard a “Boom” and a “Bang,” before the lights suddenly went out.

“I better see if anybody’s hurt,” she recalls thinking, adding Felton Fire Protection District was already on the scene by the time she made it to the crash site. “And then more emergency vehicles came.”

The Felton crew arrived so quickly because they’d already been out running errands in the area, Walters said, adding two Zayante engines followed shortly afterward.

The crash took out six spans of electrical wires, he noted, as PG&E workers arrived to survey the damage.

There’ve been plenty of accidents along that stretch of roadway recently, according to Jones, including one that bent a metal pipe at the base of her driveway just days earlier.

“I’ve been here 48 years and I don’t know how many accidents I’ve seen and heard,” she said. “I’ve lost track.”

Jones did not yet know if the driver was alive, but she says it looked really serious.

“The roof was crushed down on the pickup truck,” she said, adding it was clear her assistance wasn’t needed. “So, I just went into my house and minded my own business.”

Officer Alyssa Officer Gutierrez, a spokesperson for the California Highway Patrol, said Santa Cruz County Sheriff’s Office deputies preserved the scene and handled traffic control until they could arrive.

When they did, officers found a large tree on top of the vehicle.

“It was hard to get to the occupant,” Gutierrez said, adding a heavy-duty tow truck was required to retrieve the 2018 Toyota Tacoma.

The man was pronounced dead by medical personnel at the scene.

Drugs and alcohol weren’t a factor in the accident, although the cause is still under review, according to CHP investigators.

Perry Ralston, 58, who also lives in the area, said people like to speed along the winding roadway.

“Take a look at the tire tracks,” he said. “You’ll see burnouts 200 feet long.”

He faults Santa Cruz County for not doing more tree trimming.

“Today that tree just killed somebody,” he said, adding neighbors have five specific trees they’ve been raising the alarm about, to no avail. “To me it’s sickening—absolutely sickening.”

He pointed to brittle limbs hanging precariously above a popular pathway frequently used by children, to prove his point.

Walters told Ralston, who owns Perry’s Sporting Goods in Scotts Valley, public safety authorities will prepare a report to send to the county in response to the incident.

“There’s a lot of problems around here,” Walters said. “CHP’s going to let Public Works know.”

“Hey, Chief,” Ralston replied before walking away. “Thanks.”

Walters cautioned motorists to take extra care as the atmospheric river is expected to ramp up along the West Coast into the weekend.

“With the rains coming, the likelihood of trees coming down is increased,” he said. “Watch your speed.”

Officer Gutierrez urged drivers to stay further behind the person they’re following.

“You always want to make sure you have enough distance between your vehicle and their vehicle,” she said, adding it might be time for some to install new windshield wipers. “Make sure your vehicle is properly maintained.”

Drew Penner
Drew Penner is an award-winning Canadian journalist whose reporting has appeared in the Globe and Mail, Good Times Santa Cruz, Los Angeles Times, Scotts Valley Press Banner, San Diego Union-Tribune, KCRW and the Vancouver Sun. Please send your Los Gatos and Santa Cruz County news tips to [email protected]

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