Editor’s Note: Sacramento CBS13 ran “Caltrans Worker Dodges Death, Gets Out of Crushed Truck to Direct Traffic” about District 3 Equipment Operator II Joe Vaars. Sacramento CBS13 granted CT News permission to rerun the Feb. 21 story.
By Macy Jenkins
NEVADA CITY (CBS13) – A Caltrans employee narrowly escaped his vehicle (Feb. 21) after a tree crashed down right on top of him.
It happened at 2:05 a.m. while he was on his way to clean up a mudslide on Highway 49, just north of Nevada City.
“I mean I’m pretty lucky, I had somebody watching out for me, that’s for sure,” said Joe Vaars, a Caltrans employee in District 3. “I don’t know if was instinct or what but it happened so fast that I didn’t even have a chance to think about much instead of getting out of the way of the tree!”
Strong wind brought down the tree about seven miles away from Vaars' destination.
“There was no way to stop,” he said. “So I just laid across the seats knowing it was going to hit about the windshield.”
Immediately, he thought of the fuel tank in the back and started to worry that it might explode.
“It took me a minute to get my bearings and I just kind of crawled out that window and called for help from our dispatch in Kingvale.”
California Highway Patrol, Caltrans and North San Juan Fire quickly responded to the scene.
“I was amazed,” said Battalion Chief Tom Browning. “He looked fine!”
Joe was standing on two feet, unharmed and directing traffic.
“I was kind of glad that I was still alive and wanted to get the highway shut down so that nobody else would hit the tree,” he explained. “That was about all I could think at the time.”
After seven years on the job, he said this was a first.
“I routinely do road patrols, checking for slides, downed trees, powerlines,” he said. “This is rare!”
With just a few bumps and bruises, Joe is back at work, 16 hours after narrowly escaping tragedy.
“It’s our job, to keep the road safe for people gettin’ where they’re going!” Vaars said.