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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

2 Men Killed in Ventura Freeway Pileup

Accident: The victims were standing on the shoulder, when hit by one of six vehicles involved in the crash.

July 25, 1999|HOLLY J. WOLCOTT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

THOUSAND OAKS — Two men standing on the shoulder of the Ventura Freeway after a chain-reaction crash early Saturday were struck and killed by a car that had swerved to avoid the wreckage, authorities said.

Six vehicles were involved in the 2:30 a.m. pileup on the northbound lanes near Hampshire Road, the California Highway Patrol reported.

Four people suffered injuries, ranging from broken bones to cuts and scrapes, authorities said.

The twisted mass of vehicles was spread across all four freeway lanes, witnesses said. The accident forced the closure of the freeway for eight hours and caused a three-mile traffic backup into Westlake Village, authorities said.

"The officers who were out there said they hadn't seen anything much like it," said Claude Ball, a CHP dispatcher.

Michael John Sawyer, 34, of Camarillo, died at the scene, said James Baroni, a deputy county coroner.

"Obviously everyone is deeply sorrowful about this. It was so unexpected, and he will be dearly missed," said Cindy Burnett, a friend of Sawyer's who was at the family home in Camarillo on Saturday afternoon.

Kurt Vonkornfeldt, 31, of Edmonds, Wash., died at Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks several minutes after the crash, Baroni said.

Details were sketchy because the number of vehicles involved has made the crash difficult to sort out, authorities said. So far, no one has been cited and there was no indication that drugs or alcohol were involved, authorities said.

The pileup started when Sawyer, who was traveling about 65 mph in his 1993 Lexus, rear-ended a 1999 Ford Contour driven by Vonkornfeldt, authorities said.

Authorities believe Sawyer, a chef who was planning to move to Salt Lake City, was headed to a Camarillo house where he lived with his mother.

Vonkornfeldt was driving a rental car he had leased at Los Angeles International Airport. He was driving toward Point Mugu for naval reserve duty, Baroni said.

After the first crash, Sawyer and Vonkornfeldt left their cars in the freeway's two slow lanes and went to the shoulder to talk, authorities said.

Seconds later, two more cars had a minor crash in the same area, presumably caused when the drivers slowed suddenly for the wreckage, authorities said.

By then, four cars were scattered on the road, and some of them were disabled, authorities said. At least three of the four drivers went to the shoulder to talk.

Brian Michael Willis, 28, of San Diego came upon the crash scene while traveling more than 60 mph in a 1996 Honda Civic, authorities said.

When Willis swerved onto the shoulder to avoid the wrecked vehicles, his car struck Sawyer, Vonkornfeldt and a third man who survived, authorities said.

After the Honda struck the group, a 1998 Mitsubishi Eclipse driven by 23-year-old Valdeci Parucci Jr. clipped the Honda.

Willis and another driver in the pileup, Stephane L. Brown, 26, of Ventura both suffered moderate injuries. A third motorist, Corey D. Tucker, 26, of Camarillo suffered minor injuries, and a passenger in another vehicle, Mathew R. Baltes, 8, of Thousand Oaks, complained of aches and pains.

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