In the Blink of an Eye

07/10/15 - posted by Frank Dunnigan - dunnigan<at>

It was exactly 45 years ago this weekend, July 11, 1970, when a 2-car crash on the old, elevated Doyle Drive near the Golden Gate Bridge claimed numerous lives. The wreck was the worst-ever loss of life in a San Francisco traffic accident. It has been mentioned a few times on the message boards, but details have grown sketchy, even for those of us who were around back then.

They were a group of happy young people, in their late teens, living in the Parkside, Outer Sunset, Merced Manor, Lakeshore, Mount Davidson, and Parkmerced neighborhoods. Virtually every single one of us who came of age in those years knew at least one of them, having been their classmates at Lowell, Lincoln, S.I., Giannini, Hoover, or in elementary school.

They were on the very cusp of the modern 1970s, and had just spent a pleasant Friday evening together. The radio was likely playing Simon & Garfunkel or Creedence Clearwater Revival, as the group made its way back home after a few hours of fun, music, food, and friendship. There was not even a hint of anything wrong—other than an over-crowded car—and there were absolutely no suggestions of any drugs or alcohol involved for those in the Mustang, which was traveling below the speed limit.

The accident occurred around Midnight on Doyle Drive, as it wound from Lombard Street through the Presidio, on its way to the Golden Gate Bridge and the turnoff toward Park-Presidio Boulevard that would have brought the driver and his friends safely home. But “safely home” was not to be enjoyed by any of them that night.

A southbound Porsche, just days old, was traveling at more than 100 mph after leaving the Toll Plaza and heading into San Francisco, according to witnesses, who said that the driver lost control and slammed through the yellow plastic lane dividers, into the oncoming traffic, striking head-on the red Ford Mustang that was carrying the 9 young people. The Porsche driver and his two female passengers were killed instantly, along with 6 of the 9 passengers in the Mustang, with the remaining 3 riders in the Mustang sustaining life-altering injuries. One survivor died 2 weeks later, and the remaining two struggled with their injuries for several years before dying young.

In the blink of an eye, it was over. They had no time to react, no time to say goodbye, no time to get on with lives that were instantly and forever cut short. Over those next few awful days, as the news spread through the neighborhood and the funerals took place, many parents and their teens felt a renewed sense of closeness.

Those innocent young people were denied the experience of living through the incredible decades to come—times that would have included graduations, marriages, families, successful careers, and the joys of growing old with loved ones. Today, they would all be in their 60s—headed for or already into retirement, surrounded by grown children and countless grandchildren.

This year, as the anniversary of that tragedy again comes up on the calendar, let us pause for a moment to reflect on the greatest gift that each of us has been given—life itself—something that we often take for granted, and something that was taken away far too soon from all of them. Rest in peace, dear friends—you are still remembered.

Deborah Abraham—age 17
Samuel Adams—age 19
Francesca Carol Alamsha—age 17
Carl Campbell—age 19
Alana Lee—age 18
Larry Lucas—age 18
John Simer—age 19
Donna Spanos—age 17
Albert “Bert” Urrea—age 19

The Western Neighborhoods Project is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.