THOUSAND OAKS — A daily ritual turned deadly for a 63-year-old woman when her car rolled down the driveway and crushed her to death, authorities said Thursday.
As was her habit, Barbara Levens approached her house on Houston Drive about 7:30 or 8 p.m. Wednesday and backed her 1988 Toyota Corolla into her garage.
"Apparently she didn't set her parking brake and left it in neutral," explained Deputy John Popp of the Ventura County Sheriff's Department. Leaving her purse on the washing machine in the garage, the office assistant walked down her inclined driveway toward the mailbox.
"When she was walking back up, the car rolled out, and she was crushed," said Popp, who discovered Levens' body during his regular patrol of the area. "It looked like she was trying to get out of the way or to stop the car from rolling, and she couldn't.
"It was one of those strange, fluke accidents. . . . Just a tragic little accident." Police do not suspect foul play but are still investigating the incident, Popp said.
On Thursday, Levens' lawn was dotted with a wild-flower bouquet and carnations long since wilted in the sun. Neighbors and co-workers remembered the friendly but reserved woman who had lived in the same tidy, green and white house for decades.
Looking across the street at Levens' darkened house, neighbor Timothy Bond recalled her as someone who came home after work, waved and chatted with neighbors and kept to herself. "What a tragedy," he said. "Life can be so fragile sometimes."
A 25-year-veteran of the county Correction Services Agency, Levens was a widow who adored her Burmese cat, named Mai Tai, and her four grown sons, who live in California and the Pacific Northwest, friends recalled.
"I think that all of us thought a lot of her," said Barbara Gaines, a supervising deputy probation officer who worked with Levens in the Simi Valley Courthouse. "She was a real nice, strong person [and] very proud of her sons and grandchildren," whose photos decorated Levens' work area.
Neighbors recalled that Levens liked to putter in her well-kept yard after work and that she allowed herself the luxury of a weekly Wednesday dinner and a vodka tonic at Pip's Place steak house.
Next-door neighbor Maria Arechiga, who used to talk to Levens while tending bar at Pip's, said Levens was a creature of habit, "neat, tidy and particular." But Levens would never get bent out of shape when one of Arechiga's children entered her backyard to retrieve a stray ball or toy.
Hitting her anniversary with the probation department July 1, Levens was looking forward to retiring, buying a motor home and traveling to see her sons up north for a white Christmas, Arechiga and others said.
One neighbor, who declined to give his name, became red-eyed looking at Levens' driveway.
"I just hate to see her gone," he said.