Homer Police continue investigating an incident in which a Homer man crashed his truck off Baycrest Hill over the weekend, but whose failure to report the crash prompted a search Monday morning after an Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities worker found a bent guardrail and the truck down a ravine.
Homer Police Sgt. Larry Baxter said Thayr Watson, 32, assured police on Monday that he was OK after an officer contacted him by phone. Watson refused to speak further with police, Baxter said.
“Our first priority was his well being and safety,” Baxter said of the search for a possible victim. “We wanted to make sure he was OK and somebody else wasn’t down there, hurt and dying.”
Watson crashed his truck sometime late Saturday or early Sunday while driving north on the Sterling Highway. Friends said he fell asleep. His truck just missed a concrete or “Jersey” barrier near the Baycrest Hill viewpoint north entrance and slammed into a guardrail, bending the metal. Crushed and bent alders showed where the truck had gone over a ledge about 30 feet from the road. The crash sheered the cab of the truck from the chassis, scattering parts about 100 to 200 feet down the cliff.
Searchers also found drug paraphernalia in Watson’s truck, Baxter said.
Members of the Homer Volunteer Fire Department and Kachemak Emergency Services spent from about 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday, July 24, searching for a possible victim of a vehicle accident on Monday after responding to the Baycrest Overlook. A rope crew deployed down the slope next to the outlook found Watson’s pickup truck, but no person.
Friends of Watson came by the scene about 2 p.m. and reported Watson had crashed his truck a few days earlier and walked away from the crash. They said they had seen the search on Monday and stopped to alert authorities — something police said Watson should have done the day of the crash.
“If he’d given us a phone call, it would have saved a lot of man hours and time,” Baxter said.
The DOT maintenance worker at about 11:30 a.m. reported the bent guardrail on the Sterling Highway to Homer Police, as well as evidence that a vehicle had gone over the edge into the trees. Several passersby Monday mentioned seeing the bent guardrail days earlier as well.
Watson crashed his truck there a few days ago and walked away unharmed, his friends told first responders at the scene. Watson struck the guard rail and rolled the vehicle many times, his friends said. There did not appear to be skid marks at the crash site.
“He’s a lucky man,” said friend Tiffany Couch.
Couch and friends Tim Taylor and Travis Catron said Watson did not wear a seat belt and rode out the crash. The friends said they later saw Watson and he did not appear to have any injuries.
KES Chief Bob Cicciarella said that on the plus side, the search gave his department and Homer Fire some good joint training in roped cliff and mountain rescue training. Firefighters from both departments were lowered down to the search area using ropes and harnesses. KES has rescue equipment at its Diamond Ridge and McNeil Canyon fire stations. KES also used a ladder truck in the search, with the truck parked on the roadside and the ladder extended over the bluff. Rescuers climbed the ladder and peered over the edge with binoculars as part of the search.
“It worked out really well,” Cicciarella said. “We’re glad there wasn’t somebody down there.”
“While it was good training for the fire department, if another call had come in, those resources were tied up,” Baxter noted.
Watson also crashed his truck last month on June 30 near Blackwater Bend on the Sterling Highway between Anchor Point and Homer. Alaska State Trooper spokesperson Megan Peters said troopers received a report about 7:30 a.m. that day that Watson’s truck had broken free while being towed. No one was in the truck at the time. Troopers did not file any charges or citations in that incident.
Peters said if people see broken guardrails, fresh skid marks, broken branches or disturbed snow banks, if safe they should stop and check out the scene.
“When in doubt, call us,” she said. “We would much rather find out something and it’s no big deal then find out later on its a huge deal.”