‘It’s Absolutely Tragic’: Truck Kills One Worker, Hurts Another During Highway 17 Mudslide Cleanup

A truck hit and killed one worker and injured another as they cleaned up a part of Highway 17 where a mudslide came crashing down earlier this week, according to the California Highway Patrol. 

Officers said the truck was backing up in the construction area when it hit the two men, both employees of Graniterock, who were standing behind the vehicle. The man who died was 54-year-old Robert Gill from Los Banos, who had been with Graniterock for 15 years, the company said. Graniterock released a picture of him on Twitter late Thursday.

CHP Officer Trista Drake said the man who was hurt, identified as 34-year-old Stephen Whittier of San Jose, was extricated from under a vehicle where he had been pinned. He was conscious and talking when ambulances rushed him to Valley Medical Center, she said. 

Gil's stepdaughter, Anisa Saavedra, told NBC Bay Area in a phone interview that her late stepfather coached Little League, loved the San Francisco Giants and participated in the Police Athletic League program. He left behind his wife Sandra of 20 years, his daughter, Alyssa, his son, Robert Jr., and a large extended family including grandchildren.

"Robert was a family man," she said. "He was always smiling and knew a lot of people. He was very involved in his community."

Gil began working at Granite Construction with his father, and 15  years ago, moved to Graniterock. All together, she said, he had 28 years with the company. His son, Robert Jr., also recently began working at Graniterock and the two had commuted to work together that day. Robert Jr. was at the job site when his father was killed, Saavedra said.

Drake was unable to confirm whether the slick roads led to the fatal collision, but said, "Anytime that the elements are against us, it's going to be dangerous for everybody out here on the road."

A curly-haired woman, who was seen on cameras driving away from the scene with visibly trembling hands and a shocked expression, flagged down CHP officers. She either saw the crash or its immediate after-effects, Drake said. 

Anisa Saavedra

For his part, the truck driver was "very, very shaken up," Drake said, because the two men were likely his friends or coworkers. The driver has been identified as Daniel Harrington, 39, of Salinas. The investigation is ongoing and so far he has not been found to be at fault.

The CHP has halted the repair work, which involves a team of Caltrans workers and contractors, for the duration of the investigation, she said. "A lot of times with these tragedies, people's minds aren't clear at the time that they're giving a statement," Drake said, so the CHP's Accident Investigation Team is taking photos and measurements to reconstruct and understand exactly what led to and occurred during the crash. 

"It's tremendously sad, it's going to affect all of us," Drake said. "These are people also putting their lives on the line every single day to make the commute for Santa Cruz, San Jose easier ... it's absolutely tragic."

A spokesperson for Graniterock said the company is devastated by the loss, and officials are cooperating with the investigation. The company also lowered a flag located outside its office in Santa Cruz.

As of Thursday night, officials said the cleanup work likely won't resume until next week.

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