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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Fillmore Veteran Killed in Crash With Cement Truck

Accident: Man's wife and twin granddaughters are injured, along with mixer's driver, who reported trouble with his brakes on winding Grimes Canyon Road.

May 17, 2000|TINA DIRMANN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A 71-year-old Fillmore man was killed early Tuesday when a loaded cement truck skidded out of control on Grimes Canyon Road and slammed into the victim's car, which was also carrying his wife and their young granddaughters.

Donald R. Blair, a passenger in the couple's 1994 Dodge, was pronounced dead at the scene. His wife, Lois Gean Blair, 60, was airlifted to Los Robles Regional Medical Center in Thousand Oaks. She was listed in serious but stable condition Tuesday night.

The couple's twin 5-year-old granddaughters, Brittany and Breana Blair, who were in the back with their seat belts on, escaped with minor injuries. After being treated at Simi Valley Hospital, the girls were released to other family members, authorities said.

Truck driver David Wolf, 36, of Camarillo, was also taken to Simi Valley Hospital, where he was treated for minor injuries and released.

According to the California Highway Patrol, Donald Blair was only wearing a shoulder belt at the time of the crash and not a lap belt. His wife, who was driving, had both belts on, authorities said.

The accident occurred on a stretch of highway with several sharp bends in the canyon between Fillmore and Moorpark.

Between 1994 and 1999, 574 accidents have occurred on the roadway, resulting in 235 injuries and seven deaths.

Authorities are still looking into the cause of Tuesday's crash, but Wolf told investigators that he was making a sharp turn on the winding road when he began having problems with his brakes, CHP Officer David Webb said.

"The driver of the truck believes his brakes might have gone out and caused him to crash," Webb said.

Authorities are inspecting the truck, a 1997 Peterbilt cement mixer from National Ready Concrete Co., for possible mechanical failure, as well as looking into other possible causes of the crash, including excessive speed.

Representatives for National Ready Concrete said all of their trucks are inspected every 30 days. Officials, however, declined to say when the truck involved in the accident was last checked.

Wolf was driving north at an unknown speed just after 7 a.m. when he lost control and the mixer tumbled onto its side, authorities said. The truck began to slide and slammed on top of the Blairs' oncoming sedan, pushing it to the edge of the road, where it teetered above the canyon before coming to rest, authorities said.

Ventura County firefighters arrived at the scene shortly after and rushed to secure the car to prevent it from sliding down the steep hillside. They placed concrete blocks under the car's tires and tied a rope to the car and secured it to a nearby guardrail.

A helicopter airlifted Lois Blair to the hospital, where she underwent surgery for an arm injury.

News of her husband's death saddened their Fillmore neighbors, who remembered Donald Blair as a kind man who didn't talk much about his colorful past as a World War II veteran.

Blair, who spoke to The Times in a 1991 interview, said he was captured as a POW by Chinese Communist troops in the closing days of the war. Blair served on a U. S. Navy ship at Okinawa. Just before Japan's surrender in the Pacific, he was sent to Tsingtao, China, to train Nationalist Chinese sailors, who were warring with both Japanese and Chinese Communist soldiers.

Blair said he was captured by Chinese Communist troops and held prisoner for 44 days until his release was negotiated in exchange for two Communist colonels. As a prisoner, Blair said he endured numerous beatings that left him with lifelong injuries and eventually unable to walk.

"It was hell," Blair said in 1991. "They beat me up so bad and tortured me so that I can't walk. It's the reason I'm strapped to a wheelchair."

Neighbors said Blair, who worked for a time after the war as a painting contractor, had been in poor health, suffering from diabetes.

"He was a real nice guy," said Tony Onorato, who talked often with his neighbor and regularly exchanged Christmas gifts. "I don't know what else to say except he was just great."

Investigators said the canyon road is a popular route for truck drivers traveling to and from a nearby rock quarry or between Moorpark and Fillmore.

Authorities said many of the accidents that have occurred in the canyon over the years have involved big-rig trucks and passenger cars going too fast for the narrow and winding road.

"Whether you are driving a truck, a car, whatever, people need to remember to take their time," CHP Officer Steve Reid said, "especially on a road like this where there are a lot of curves."

*

Times Community News reporter Holly J. Wolcott contributed to this story.

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