Columbia, Ca — 22 year old Ralph M. Souza Jr. of Sonora was killed in a solo vehicle accident off Italian Bar Rd. this afternoon.
Shortly after one o´clock, Souza´s 2006 Chevrolet pickup, headed toward Sonora, veered off the dirt and gravel road 3.2 miles northeast of Columbia and plunged over a 150 foot embankment. The passenger, 33 year old Tanya Cimolino also of Sonora, was ejected from the vehicle during the rollover sequence. She refused medical aid. The CHP reports that Souza and Cimolino were not wearing their seat belts. In addition the CHP is investigating as to whether alcohol could have been a contributing factor to the accident.
The accident ignited a one-eighth acre vegetation fire. CAL FIRE, Tuolumne County Fire Department and Stanislaus National Forest firefighters along with inmate crews from the Sierra Conservation Center responded to the blaze. There was also a helicopter providing a series of bucket drops in an effort to control the fire. The Sheriff´s Department Search and Rescue team also responded to the incident recovering Souza´s body.
Written by BJ Hansen
Incident Commander Mike Olivarria stated the extremely steep terrain posed the greatest challenge for the firefighters. He added this was one of the most difficult fires he had ever faced because of the topography of the land.
Written by BJ Hansen-Bill Johnson