One worked for the city, the other for the county. One was headed back to the shop after a day that had begun before sunrise, the other was on his way to a telephone-repair job. One was headed south. He would live. One was headed north. He would die.
Six others would be injured in one of the most dramatic pileups in recent memory--a freak crash whose devastation startled even California Highway Patrol officers who study what happens when vehicles collide.
A day after a 4-ton city truck, southbound on the Hollywood Freeway, careened across several lanes and plowed through the center divider into northbound traffic, numerous investigators from a host of agencies are still trying to figure out what happened.
Although drug and alcohol test results are pending, authorities say there is no indication that Louis Gysin, 51, was impaired when the 1987 yellow cherry-picker he was driving began its fateful swerve.
Officials say the tall, hazel-eyed Gysin, a street maintenance worker who has a spotless driving record, according to the Department of Motor Vehicles, doesn't remember the crash. His family was at his bedside at Holy Cross Medical Center in Mission Hills.
A few miles north, in Canyon Country, the family of Roger Randall was mourning.
Susan and Roger Randall lost their only child, 21-year-old Roger, in a car crash seven years ago. Now Susan Randall had lost her husband of 30 years, a tall, mustachioed man who loved blues music and served as his neighborhood's resident "tool guy."
Randall, a 50-year-old telecommunications repairman, died in his county-owned GMC Safari van, one of many in a large fleet of county-owned vehicles. Susan Randall watched the aftermath of the accident on television at their home and saw the crushed white van. It could have belonged to any of a number of county employees.
Then the police, along with her husband's boss, Gary Wolff, knocked at the door.
"They were sweethearts," Susan Randall's sister, Jean Timmerman, said Friday, between sobs.
The crash that closed the freeway for nearly 12 hours, crippling the city's evening rush hour, happened at 2:30 p.m.
Gysin was on his way downtown from the east San Fernando Valley, where he spent the day repairing a retaining wall that had begun to give way after a month of record rainfalls.
Randall was headed into the Valley. He had completed a repair job at a county Department of Mental Health building on South Vermont Street, and was headed for the Van Nuys courthouse. A broken security-system speaker needed fixing.
They were among an estimated 2.7 million Southern California freeway drivers on the road that afternoon.
Randall was climbing the grade north through the Cahuenga Pass. Gysin was on the downhill side, traveling about 50 mph, his three-axle Ford truck in the slow lane. At Universal Center Drive, Gysin's truck veered hard to the left.
A preliminary investigation by the CHP tells what happened next: Gysin's truck broadsided a 1986 Ford Bronco II and began shoving it across the southbound lanes. The careening vehicles then struck a 1980 Nissan 280ZX.
Gysin's truck and the Bronco, driven by Burbank resident Colin Kelly Rock, 35, then plowed through the center divider guardrail and collided with a 1987 Toyota pickup truck.
"At this point, [Gysin's] truck became airborne, passing directly over one witness' vehicle, before landing on its side in the northbound lanes," the CHP report said.
That is when Gysin's truck struck Randall's van.
The cherry-picker continued to slide into oncoming traffic on its side, finally coming to rest on top of a rented 1998 Chevrolet Cavalier driven by Carol Adkins, 42, from Jacksonville, Fla. Adkins was in extremely critical condition late Friday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Her daughter was flying out from Florida, a hospital spokeswoman said, declining to specify the extent of her injuries. But the spokeswoman added, "Say lots of prayers for her."
At least five other vehicles were also involved. The drivers of those cars suffered injuries ranging from superficial cuts to severe internal damage.
The southbound side of the freeway remained closed until 7 p.m. Thursday; the northbound side finally reopened at 1:30 a.m. Friday, scrambling traffic for hundreds of thousands of commuters.
The main reason for the long delay in reopening the freeway, said CHP Officer Rhett Price, was the scale of the accident--one death, seven serious injuries, two government agencies and evidence scattered across 10 lanes of freeway.
"No piece of debris was left unmarked. No skid mark was left undocumented," Price said.
Exactly what happened--and why--remains a mystery, one that Price said would take at least 90 days to unravel.
The wrecked vehicles have been taken to two storage yards for further investigation. CHP accident specialists plan to test the steering and suspension on Gysin's truck, as well as other mechanical systems.
Investigators have interviewed more than 20 motorists, including Gysin, about the crash.
For now, there are few answers--and little comfort for Randall's family and friends.
"He was my tool guy," said neighbor Lisa Lehman, through her tears. "Whenever I needed a tool, I would borrow one of his."
This story was reported by Times staff writers Patrick Kerkstra, Jeff Leeds, Eric Slater and special correspondent Dade Hayes. It was written by Slater.