Sandra Mathias had heard Friday afternoon that someone had been killed in a 40-car pileup on Interstate 80, as a snowstorm swept through the Sierra.
Mathias had also wondered why she hadn't yet heard from her father, a Lake of the Pines resident who had made a trip to a veterans hospital in Reno to have his hearing aids checked.
But early Friday evening, just after watching news of the massive crash on TV, a sheriff's deputy knocked on her mother's door to share word that her dad, Doug Swasey, had died in the crash.
"He was always helping other people," said Sandra Mathias.
And apparently, according to the latest reports from the California Highway Patrol, Doug Swasey was trying to help other people when he died Friday.
"There were some reports that he was putting chains on his truck, but that's not true at all," said Swasey's son, Mark, noting his father's truck had been badly damaged from the accident, but the driver's cab was intact.
"He had survived the wreck and he had gotten out to help someone in another car that had gone under a semi. That's when the chain reaction was
happening, unbeknownst to him, and he got hit by somebody. That's the most up-to-date report we've gotten. We don't know for sure what happened, but it's just like him to be helping somebody else."
Family members say Doug Swasey, 68, was a loving man whose two passions in life were his family and making sure he didn't miss a grandson's ballgame or any other event in their lives. He and Kay, his wife of 46 years, moved just a few miles south from their Lime Kiln Road home, where they lived for more than 20 years, to Lake of the Pines in order to be closer to family.
"He was a business owner here for 46 years," said Mark Swasey, who operates MTS Supply, a wholesale warehouse in Grass Valley. "He was well known - just a great guy with huge heart."
He had owned several businesses in western Nevada County, including Swasey's Hair Center on Brunswick Road in Grass Valley for more than 20 years. He also had owned Hair Unlimited on Joerschke Drive and an RV rental company.
Trish Duncan said Swasey had been her hairdresser for
"It's just so sad," she said. "He was the kindest and sweetest man. He'll be greatly missed. He loved what he did, he loved his family."
Mark said when he was a teenager, his father looked for ways to connect with him, which resulted in father and son both becoming Denver Broncos football fans and a pair of bicycle rides from Washington, D.C., back to Nevada County.
The first ride took the duo 32 days to complete in 1985 and they apparently enjoyed it so much that they embarked on another one two years later. Mark said they actually carried a proclamation from President Reagan, acknowledging the bicentennial of the United States Constitution, all the way across the country and presented it to the community at the Constitution Day parade
"It was just a wonderful experience," Mark said. "It was a very thoughtful and strategic move my dad made to have that kind of quality father-son time together."
Born in Murray, Utah, Doug Swasey moved to Nevada County after serving the country as a member of the Air Force, backing bombers into place after a mission while stationed in Okinawa, Japan, and in Georgia from 1961-65.
He and Kay enjoyed spending time with their family and Doug took particular interest in attending as many of his grandchildren's school events as he could, said their son-in-law Jim Mathias. This past football season he traveled to every game of the Sierra College Wolverines, which his grandson and former Bear River standout Tanner Mathias quarterbacked.
"Even we didn't get to every game," Jim Mathias said. "But (Doug) did."
"He loved his family," Sandra Mathias said, "especially his grandchildren."
Reporter Liz Kellar also contributed to this story. To contact City Editor Brian Hamilton, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call (530) 477-4249.