A woman and her 14-year-old daughter were killed in a fiery wreck Friday after a Pahrump Valley Fire-Rescue tanker driver, responding to an out-of-control burn, struck a sedan driven by Tanya Stillwell, 49. Her daughter, Dana Bailey, was also in the vehicle, which burst into flames following impact.
The accident occurred at Homestead Road and Thousandaire Boulevard sometime after 2:20 p.m. Friday after winds picked up during a controlled burn conducted by a resident living in the area of Kings Way and Squaw Valley Road. The unidentified man lost control of the blaze, which would ultimately consume as many as 13 structures. Nobody was injured and the structures, according to one Bureau of Land Management firefighter on scene, were mostly outbuildings.
Records kept at the Pahrump Valley Fire-Rescue Service show that the man did call on the day of the burn and was granted approval to conduct the burn, which would eventually consume a large portion of Kings Way west of Squaw Valley.
Several homes were imperiled, but Bureau fire crews managed to save them. It was also reported, but not confirmed, that several local construction company tanker drivers responded to the fire and played a key role in containing the blaze, which pales in comparison to the wreck.
Details of the tragic chain of events remained murky Tuesday, four days after the incident. According to a statement from Deputy Ray Roberts of the Nye County Sheriff's Office, O'Brien was driving south on Homestead when the tanker truck collided with the Saturn driven by Stillwell, who was reportedly also headed south and on her way home after picking up her daughter at the New Hope Christian Academy, where she was a student in the eighth grade.
But just what occurred is a mystery, said Sheriff Tony DeMeo, and the Nevada Highway Patrol is continuing its investigation. Requests for comment from the Highway Patrol, Deputy Fire Marshal Tony Capucci and Fire Chief Scott Lewis were not returned by press time Tuesday.
At the scene it was reported O'Brien and his fully loaded tanker rolled over the sedan, and the physical evidence provided by the condition of the vehicles supports that statement, but Roberts said the fire tender and the Saturn "spun out of control." Both vehicles came to rest on the southeast corner of the intersection; the tender was on its wheels, the sedan on its side, crushed and burned to the point authorities had difficulty determining the make and model.
O'Brien was running with lights and sirens, but eyewitness accounts conflict with each other so until Nevada Highway Patrol's fatal accident investigators complete their probe, what actually occurred remains speculation.
"At this point we know there was a collision, that's it," DeMeo said.
Emergency officials from various local, state and federal departments were on scene until after 9 p.m. The tender has been impounded and the Saturn was taken to the sheriff's office where the bodies could be removed outside of public view. Scores of people stood and sat outside Terrible's Lakeside for hours following the incident.
In a written update provided by Lewis to Town Manager Dave Richards, the fire chief said it could take six weeks for the Highway Patrol to complete its investigation. The tender was considered a "total loss" and a claim was filed Tuesday. In his report to Richards, Lewis said it was possible the tender indeed rolled over the sedan.
Richards said the Red Cross is helping those displaced by the fire. Roughly 50 horses were safely removed. Of the 13 structures that burned, three or four were homes; only one was occupied. Three horse trailers, one car, two golf carts, one camper and one utility trailer were also destroyed, but all residents in the area were safely evacuated.
Lewis also banned controlled burns as of May 27; the original plan to start the annual fire season moratorium was this Friday.