A young woman from Costa Mesa, as well as five others, miraculously survived a major wreck on Highway 41 Monday morning where she was trapped for nearly two hours in a car’s passenger seat underneath the septic tank of a toppled big rig truck.
At about 10 a.m., Donn Howse of North Fork was driving southbound on Highway 41 in a truck from Bio-Tech in Coarsegold, when he met stopped traffic south of Road 406. The cars were backed up as Caltrans performed blasting operations for its highway expansion project.
Unable to stop, Howse swerved right and collided with an embankment, California Highway Patrol officer Josh McConnell said. The momentum caused the truck to push forward and topple, with its septic tank landing on two vehicles - the front of a silver Subaru hatchback and the rear of a white Isuzu sedan. The septic tank, which was full, did not break open.
Howse, 60, suffered severe head injuries, while Suzanne Fetty and daughter Brittany Dye of Ahwahnee, both in the Isuzu, sustained minor injuries.
“The big rig came out of nowhere and smashed into the embankment, then landed on top of our car,” Fetty said. “We’re very lucky to be alive.”
“It sounded like a big explosion,” Dye said. “Then I felt the roof hit my head.”
Inside the Subaru, the event was more tragic for Natalie Boustani and her family from Costa Mesa.
Boustani, 30, was sitting in the front passenger seat and Roy Boustani was in the rear passenger seat when the tank crushed the side of the vehicle, McConnell said. While Roy Boustani, 60, was immediately rushed by ambulance to Community Regional Medical Center of Fresno with severe injuries, Natalie Boustani was trapped underneath the tank.
“She is completely trapped under that tank,” McConnell said at the scene. “They’re doing everything they can to get her out.”
Emergency crews spent more than an hour attempting to free Boustani from the car. At about noon, after multiple tow trucks were called in and managed to lift the tank, crews used the Jaws of Life to extricate her. Fortunately, she appeared to move her arms and mutter a few words before she was airlifted by a SkyLife helicopter to CRMC.
“She had a guardian angel today,” said one CHP officer.
Howse was also transported by SkyLife to CRMC.
The Subaru’s driver Roy Assad Elboustani, 22, and Victoria Boustani, 60, sitting behind him, were able to get out of the car without injury, McConnell said.
Elboustani and other members of the family, who were behind the Subaru in a red sedan, were thoroughly shaken by the event. They all expressed relief as emergency crews told them both their family members were expected to survive.
All three who suffered severe injuries were in stable condition Tuesday, McConnell said, with reports of broken bones and other wounds.
The cause of the accident remains under investigation, though McConnell noted drugs and alcohol were not suspected, and no criminal charges are being pursued. Highway 41 was reopened about 4:25 p.m.
Caltrans construction operations to widen the highway will continue as scheduled, McConnell said.
About 11:15 a.m. Monday, a second accident, believed to be minor, was reported in the Raymond area on Road 612, near its intersection with Road 415.