A boulder weighing an estimated two tons is blamed for the tragic incident on Monticello Road outside Napa Tuesday evening that killed a 22-year-old Fairfield man and shut down the roadway for some 30 hours.
On Wednesday afternoon, the Napa County Sheriff’s Office identified the motorist as Hernan Reyes-Aguires, whose body couldn’t be recovered from the wreckage until Wednesday morning due to the threat of further rock slides.
Reyes-Aguires, who has family in Napa, was on his way home to Fairfield at about 5 p.m. when the two-ton rock rolled down the hillside and hit the driver side of his car, crushing it, Sheriff’s Capt. Steve Blower said Wednesday afternoon.
The boulder pushed in the sheet metal several feet and knocked the car off the roadway and down an embankment. The vehicle came to rest about 100 yards below the road, he said.
Reyes-Aguires was pronounced dead at the scene, but neither his body nor his 1997 Toyota could be removed until a Caltrans geologist arrived Wednesday morning to assess the stability of the hillside above Monticello Road, a part of Highway 121.
Rescue workers initially tried to free Reyes-Aguires’ body using the Jaws of Life on Tuesday night until the ground above the wreck started moving, Blower said. There were boulders the size of cars farther up the hillside, he said.
“We checked the hillside and we deemed it safe and we were able to reopen the road,” Caltrans spokesperson Vince Jacala said.
It appears that just one boulder rolled down the hill and across the roadway just as a car was passing by, Jacala said. The rock caused no damage to the pavement, he said.
The rock slide occurred in an area burned by the Atlas Fire in October. Some three inches of rain fell in the area during Monday’s storm. It was not clear if the fire contributed to Tuesday’s rock fall.
The National Weather Service had issued an alert in advance of the storm, saying that areas burned by the fire were at greater risk of slides this winter.
The rock slide on Monticello Road was the only serious road incident from Monday’s rain storm, said Steve Stangland, Napa County’s public works superintendent.
Elsewhere in Napa County, there was “nothing out of the ordinary,” Stangland said. “We didn’t have to shut down any roads.”
This is in contrast to the severe mudslides in fire zones this week in Southern California that reportedly have killed 15 people.
California Highway Patrol Officer Vince Pompliano said Monticello Road carries a steady stream of traffic at 5 p.m. as workers return to their homes in Solano County and the Lake Berryessa area.
Another motorist witnessed the boulder strike the car and reported the incident to authorities, Pompliano said.
Boulders crushing cars is rare, Pompliano said. This was the first incident of its type since he came to Napa County four years ago, he said.
“I don’t think I’ve ever, in six years with Caltrans, encountered anything like this,” Jacala said. Trees falling on cars, yes, but boulders, no, he said.
“Sometimes acts of nature — you just don’t know,” Jacala said.