When the rumbling noise began, Dorothy Muller of Lomita recalled Friday, she and her husband were in their living room watching television. Their 4-year-old son, Ryan, was asleep upstairs.
An earthquake, Muller said she thought when she first heard the noise at about 11 p.m. Thursday. Seconds later, neither she nor her husband, Pat, had time to think.
"We were both thrown on the floor," Muller said. "I got up and ran upstairs to get our child while my husband called 911. Then we ran outside. . . . "
Once outside, the Mullers discovered to their horror that a driverless, runaway tractor-trailer rig had plowed into their condominium, embedding itself in a wall. The truck destroyed a station wagon parked in the couple's garage and smashed into a second-story balcony. Bro
ken glass went flying into the den where the Mullers usually relax at that hour.
"We normally sit in the den and watch television, but since I worked late we were watching the 11 o'clock news in the living room," Pat Muller said. "We're just lucky we were sitting where we were rather than in our normal place (or) we would not be speaking to you."
Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy Eugene Peterson gave this account of the crash:
Shortly before 11 p.m., Casto Narvaez, 29, legally parked the truck belonging to CP Transporters Inc. of Long Beach on Western Avenue just north of Palos Verdes Drive North. Narvaez had parked the big rig there so he could pick up his car, which he had left across the street at a girlfriend's house, Peterson said.
But for reasons still unknown to traffic investigators, the brakes on the truck did not hold and it began coasting down a steep section of Western Avenue toward the Muller's condominium complex about half a mile away. As it coasted, it picked up speed.
Besides the Mullers, some of their neighbors also heard the truck and thought that an earthquake was occurring. Others said they knew that the noise was made by a truck.
"I heard it bouncing all the way from the top of the street," said Bill Powell, 36.
As the truck careened down the street, it went over a median divider and into opposing traffic lanes, Peterson said. The rig sideswiped a parked car, cut a telephone pole in two, grazed a cement retaining wall and then smashed into the side of the Mullers' home in the 1800 block of West 262nd Street.
Emergency personnel briefly evacuated the 50-unit complex until it was determined that residents were in no danger. Manning Harris, 41, who lives in the complex, extinguished a small fire that had broken out in the truck's cab before firefighters arrived.
Although Dorothy Muller suffered a few bumps and bruises, Peterson said there were no other injuries. "It's probably a one-in-a-million chance that no one was hurt."
Because the truck damaged several of the building's support beams, it cannot be removed until civil engineers inspect the building, Peterson said. In the meantime, the truck's trailer is blocking the driveway leading to 10 units, making it impossible for those residents to get their vehicles out of their garages.
Dorothy Muller said she does not know where the family will stay until they can move back into their home. "I just thank God we are alive and can talk about it," she said.