Santa Clarita Valley History In Pictures

Carl L. Eppich
Former SCV Historical Society Board Member (1970s)

Saugus Resident Among Victims of I-5 Tragedy

Identification tentative pending dental information, says official.

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Saugus — A 71-year-old Saugus man was among 17 people killed in the 104-vehicle pileup on Interstate 5 near Coalinga last week, the Fresno County Coroner's office reported.

The identification of Carl L. Eppich as one of the dead was tentative Monday pending examination of denial records, said Richard Tobin, chief deputy coroner for Fresno County.

"We're sure enough to go ahead and release the name," Tobin said, adding Eppich's next of kin was notified. He said little additional information was available, but it was believed Eppich died at the scene und was in a vehicle with at least two other people.

Tobin said none of the others who were killed in the chain-reaction crash Friday, 160 miles southeast of San Francisco, were from the Santa Clarita Valley.

Sgt. Ted Eichman of the California Highway Patrol said it was too soon to discuss details of Eppich's involvement in the accident. He said no information was available on the type of vehicle Eppich rode in or whether Eppich was a driver or passenger.

"It's way too early," Eichman said "We're just now trying to (match) fatal victims (with) the cars they came in."

Relatives of Eppich could not be reached Monday.

High winds and a blinding dust storm were blamed for the pileup, in which an estimated 150 people were injured. Eighteen accident victims remained in Fresno area hospitals Monday, and six were listed in critical condition.

One or two major pileups occur almost every winter as fog shrouds nearly 100 miles of Interstate 5 and Suite Route 99 from the Sacramento area through Bakersfield. But fog usually descends more slowly than the wind gusts that suddenly left the interstate with zero visibility on Friday, said John Anderson, California Highway Patrol division chief.

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"We've had accidents involving up to 100 vehicles in the fog, but they were going slower, so the loss of life isn't as great," Anderson said. "These people were surprised; we were surprised. With fog, you know it's coming up. With wind, you don't know it's coming up."

Still, some motorists who made it through the remote area 160 miles southeast of San Francisco criticized officers for failing to shut the interstate down before the pileups began. Highway Patrol Sgt. Ted Eichman countered Monday that the wind blew dust from a field east of the freeway too quickly for officers to stop the carnage.

"As the wind kicked up to 60 mph, it just lilted that field up and deposited it across the freeway in a matter of minutes," Eichman said.

He said officers had just arrived at an earlier dust-related accident a short distance away when the chain reaction series began. Those officers reported that all the other wrecks occurred in little more than 10 minutes.

The Highway Patrol has a pilot program to lead motorists through the worst fog along heavily populated Highway 99 but not along the interstate, the state's main north-south freeway.

Saugus Man Among 17 Killed in Fiery I-5 Pileup.

A Saugus man was identified as one of 17 people killed in the fiery pileup Friday on Interstate 5, officials in Fresno said Tuesday.

Carl L. Eppich, 71, was killed in one of many chain-reaction collisions near Coalinga on a 100-mile stretch of the interstate blanketed in a blinding dust storm.

The identities of Eppich and another victim could not immediately be determined because they were badly burned in the crash. The names of six severely burned victims and nine others were released Saturday.

Richard Tobin of the Fresno County Coroner's Office said the last victim had been identified as Richard W. Durkop, 55, of Ceres in central California.

Sixteen of the estimated 150 people injured in the pileup remained hospitalized Tuesday, including Eppich's widow, Ruth. She was listed in stable condition in Valley Medical Center.

The couple was returning Friday to Saugus after spending Thanksgiving with their son in Stanford, their daughter Charlotte Ording said.

Ording said her father, a retired wood-pattern maker, moved to Saugus in 1968 from Cleveland, Ohio. He was a member of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church.

Ording said funeral plans were pending.

The collision was said to be the worst multivehicle accident in the nation's history in terms of the numbers of dead and injured.

The interstate was closed in both directions until late Saturday while crews worked to clear the twisted and charred wreckage of 93 cars and trucks and patched pavement damaged in the fires.

In the wake of the tragedy, some blamed the Highway Patrol for failing to close the interstate before the dust storm.

CHP officials said pockets of blowing dust earlier in the day gave no sign of the blinding clouds that followed.

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