Emergency crews got the go-ahead on Wednesday to pull out a car that plunged down a muddy hillside when a boulder came crashing down on top it on Highway 121 in unincorporated Napa Valley, killing its driver.
The roadway, also known as Monticello Road, was shut down for hours between Wooden Valley Road and Vichy Avenue, but reopened to traffic at about 1 p.m. Wednesday, according to Caltrans.
"It really appears one large boulder took the car over the side. It’s hard to tell what else came down," said Joe Buchmeier with Cal Fire.
Hernan Reyes-Aguires, 22, of Fairfield died in the rock slide around 5 p.m. Tuesday. A rock that weighed several tons slammed into the driver's side of his vehicle, pushing it about 100 yards downhill, according to Capt. Steve Blower of the Napa County Sheriff's Department.
Aguires was heading back home after visiting family in Napa County at the time of the accident.
Geologists from Caltrans have been called to the scene to examine the stability of the hillside above the road.
"They were checking to make sure the hillside is safe and there aren’t any loose materials that could come down on the highway," according to Vince Jacala with Caltrans.
Crews say the fire-gouged hillside likely became destabilized during the recent rainstorms. The Atlas Fire burned a lot of vegetation along Highway 121 and this week’s soaking didn’t help, Buchmeier said.
Caltrans says it’s worked hard to make roadside hills safe by hydro seeding and removing dead trees, but will redouble its efforts.
"Obviously we want to make sure this doesn’t happen again and we want to make sure the roadway is safe," Jacala said. "The whole area is fire scarred and Caltrans has done a lot to make sure it’s as safe as can be."
The agency has since reopened the road, but drivers are nervous.
Highway 121 in unincorporated Napa Valley reopened Wednesday afternoon following a rock slide that triggered a fatal crash Tuesday evening, according to officials.
"There could be more," said Dawn Danzig. "We’re all concerned ... because of the fires and the ground washed away."