Dramatic 911 calls shed light on fatal Sierra Mountains car accident

GOLD RUN, Calif. — A van with seven people inside loses control, speeding out of control as it headed down the Sierra summit on Interstate 80.

CBS Sacramento got exclusive access to the frantic 9-1-1 calls, which the California Highway Patrol says may help prevent a similar tragedy.

Placer County Dispatch: 9-1-1 Emergency, what is your emergency?

Caller: We need help, we’re coming off of…

Placer Dispatch: Where are you at?

Caller: We’re coming off of 80. We’re on a side road, we’ve lost our brakes, there’s 8 of us.

It is a chilling call for help. A person calling 9-1-1 inside a van full of people barreling out of control down interstate 80 toward Sacramento.

Placer Dispatch: 80 and at what cross street?

Caller: (inaudible) I have no idea where we’re at. We’re off of Gold Run.

According to the CHP, that 2003 Chevrolet Astro van with seven people inside would take the Gold Run exit, but still couldn’t stop, speeding at more than 50 mph.

Placer Dispatch: OK, let me get you through. Listen, are you going westbound?

Caller: We’re coming up…

Placer Dispatch: You going towards San Francisco? Are you going westbound?

Caller: (inaudible) I don’t know where we are!

An officer examines a car wreck near Gold Run, Calif.
CBS Sacramento

The van would collide with a Volkswagen Jetta at the end of Gold Run Road, then burst into flames. A 90-year-old Roseville woman inside the van would die at the scene. The other passengers would be rushed to nearby hospitals.

While investigators are still looking into just what the problem was—possibly a stuck accelerator or a brake problem—we wanted to find out what drivers can do to stop an out-of-control car.

The first would be to make sure there is nothing obstructing the pedals down below, but if that isn’t the issue.

“You can shift the gear into neutral which is going to cause the engine to rev if the accelerator is stuck, but it’ll allow you to stop,” said Lt. Andy Williams.