Thursday, July 04, 2013

July 4, 1963 Thursday

Hwy 49 south at Deadman's Curve
It was an ordinary hot summer day that Sunday morning, June 30, 1963. Auburn, California was always hot under blindingly clear blue skies and every summer's day looked and felt pretty much like every other summer day with nothing to distinguish one from another. Ten days later, in July, my family would forget my 9th birthday just as they had each birthday since we had arrived in California six years earlier. We lived 10 miles north of Auburn on Lone Star Road just a few miles off Highway 49 and just a few miles south of Bear River with its great granite rocks lining the swiftly careening Sierra snow water. The Highway was named for the men who had carved out the north-south road from the gold flecked hillsides of the Mother Load during the California gold rush in 1849. The 49ers and millions of others had traveled the road for 114 years before it directly affected my life.

Hwy 49 was only a two lane road in 1963 and the trip into town took 20 minutes at 65 mph. The few cars you met going the opposite direction, well, you always waved because that's just what you did whether you knew them or not. In those days, it certainly was not strange to see cars and trucks barreling down the road at what we now think of as breakneck speeds packed full of adults and kids and dogs without a single  seatbelt among the whole bunch; it was a dangerous and beautiful time, but that's just what you did and no one thought much about it. Today, I live only three miles from town just off Hwy 49 and the trip to town takes 20 minutes at 45 mph with a half dozen stop lights in between. Most cars have one or two passengers to whom you never wave and you damned well better be wearing your seatbelt. That's just what we do now. Besides, it's the law.

Hwy 49 south and Lone Star Rd
The 1963 junction of 49 and Lone Star Rd had neither stop lights nor stop signs and visibility was limited in both directions because of 49's double curve that was so severe on the northern end that it was called Deadman's Curve. Still today, there aren't any traffic lights though there are STOP signs for Lone Star Rd on both sides of 49, but drivers still take their lives in their own hands pulling out into the much heavier traffic on today's four-lane highway. Traffic accidents are still such a major problem on Deadman's Curve that I hear emergency vehicles throughout every week screaming down the road to rescue the injured from roll-over accidents or scrape the dead from the asphalt after a head-on crash.

In 1963, a car crash at Deadman's Curve became personal and over the years it became even more personal as I grew up and learned of the people involved. The Anderson family lived on Lone Star, but on the other side of 49. The Anderson kids and I rode the same school bus driven by Toma, a man who looked a lot like Frank McGrath who played the cook, Charlie B. Wooster, on the TV program "Wagon Train." Every school day, the bus would stop to pick-up or drop-off kids just before Deadman's Curve at the horse ranch driveway of James Drury, who played "The Virginian" on the TV show of the same name. But, I digress.

Hwy 49 north at Deadman's Curve
Dan Anderson and I were in the same class while his brother, Ted, was a year younger. We were friends. That Sunday morning, the family was headed for church. My family couldn't have been very far ahead of the Anderson car as all the churches had much the same schedule. Dan and Ted were in the family car with their parents, Nathan and Lorraine; sisters, Nancy and Susan; and another brother, Nathan whom we all called Eddie. Just a little ways ahead of their car was a California Highway Patrol car driven by Officer Stan Perkins, a CHP veteran of eight years and the father of another school buddy, Bob - we called him Bobby in those days. Two of the Anderson kids were killed when Raymond Robinson in a pickup truck heading north, careened around the Curve on the wrong side of the road and smashed head-on into the family car. In a single moment of horror the drunken Robinson left eight people - grown-ups and kids - strewn across the two lanes of asphalt, unconscious in pools of their own blood.

The local paper, The Auburn Journal, came out only on Thursdays in those days and Thursday was July 4. This is the story of Sunday's crash -
Auburn Journal, July 4, 1963
Two local children die in crash; highway patrolman turns in badge
Ten-year-old Nathan (Eddie) Anderson Jr.and his kid sister, Susan, 5, will be buried here tomorrow – victims of a violent mixture of liquor and speed.
It’s doubtful, at this writing, that their parents, Nathan and Lorraine Anderson, will be at the cemetery. And chances are that their sister, Nancy, 12, and their brothers, Daniel, 9, and Theodore, 8, will not be there, either.
All five were still at Highland Hospital [Auburn] early yesterday, recovering from injuries suffered in the explosive collision which killed Eddie and little Susan as the family rode to church Sunday morning.
It’s doubtful, too, that Stan Perkins, the “tough” cop who oddly enough witnessed the tragedy, will be at the graveside services.
Perkins, an eight year veteran of seeing slaughter on the roads, turned in his highway patrolman’s star Monday after completing his investigation of the frightening case.
“I just couldn’t take it anymore,” said the 33-year-old former officer. “What shakes you the worst is seeing little kids staring at their bleeding brothers and sisters and just screaming. I had to get out of the business …”
Perkins was driving ahead of the Andersons on Highway 49 about six miles north of Auburn when a speeding pickup truck came careening around a curve on the wrong side, forcing him off the road.
After regaining control of his patrol car, Perkins glanced in the rear view mirror in time to see the pickup sideswipe the Andersons’ heavy sedan and shove it through a barbed wire fence.
“In a flash second there were eight people lying around on the road,” Perkins recalled with a lump in his throat. “The boy (Eddie) must have been killed instantly. And I had that odd feeling that the little girl would soon die.”
The driver of the pickup, Raymond Robison, 41, of Roseville, was seriously injured in the blinding crash. While the surviving Andersons were taken to Highland here, Robison was brought to Sutter General Hospital in Sacramento.
Police said he would be charged with involuntary manslaughter and felony drunk driving. A blood test showed Robison had a .22 reading. A man is legally considered too drunk to drive when the test shows .15.
It is an ordinary hot summer day this Thursday in July 2013. Auburn, CA is, as always, hot under blindingly clear blue skies and every summer's day looks and feels pretty much like every other summer day with nothing to distinguish one from another. In six days, I will have my 59th birthday and somewhere across this great land we call America another drunken driver will destroy another family and more Eddies and Susans will not survive to see the fireworks of Independence Day or anything else.

Happy Independence Day. Be safe to celebrate again next year.