It is still a mystery how a bowling ball found its way on July 1 onto the Golden Center Freeway in Grass Valley.
The ensuing collision, caused by cars braking to avoid the ball and each other, is still a financial sore spot for one Penn Valley family.
At 8:30 p.m. on that day, 16-year-old Brittany Lahr was returning home after a full day at her cashier job at Longs Drug Store in the Brunswick Basin. The Sierra Foothill High School senior was heading south near the East Main Street exit, when she noticed something roll past her on the pavement, followed by a Nevada County Consolidated Dire department pickup truck.
The truck’s driver, firefighter Orville Boger, was trying to use his emergency lights to warn other drivers about the bowling ball.
“He was swerving down the road, following this thing,” Lahr said.
Boger began to exit the freeway once it looked as though the ball was going to leave the road and roll into some bushes, Consolidated Fire Chief Tim Fike said. When Lahr saw this, she said, she and the other cars began to speed up.
But the bowling ball bounced off a barrier and broke into two pieces. One half flew back into the road like a pinball and nearly struck a vehicle two cars in front of Lahr’s. The driver of another car in front of her slammed on the brakes to avoid the shards.
Lahr said she, too, hit the brakes of her 1991 Buick Regal, but could not stop in time. She crashed into the car in front of her. According to a California Highway Patrol report, the crash was caused by her not paying attention to traffic.
Fike said while it is possible the bowling ball came from the back of a vehicle, it was most likely rolled onto the freeway the road by pranksters.
“I have no doubt about that,” Fike said.
During the crash, Lahr injured her kneecap when it was pushed into the dashboard.
“I couldn’t move my leg, and I knew something happened to my knee,” she said.
An ambulance took her to the local hospital emergency room, and she was released the same night with a brace around her leg. The bad part is not necessarily that a month after the crash Lahr still walks with a limp and the knee brace, but that her family does not have medical insurance. They are now facing a pile of bills from the ambulance ride, ER costs and doctor’s fees.
Her mother, Carrie Lahr, has been unemployed since she was laid off in April; and her father, Wade Lahr, has not worked since a January knee injury at work.
“Brittany was doing the best out of all of us,” Carrie Lahr said. “She has done well for herself and now she has nothing to show for it. Now she is out of a car – it was a total loss.”
The highway patrol placed little of the blame for Brittany Lahr’s injuries on the bowling ball. According to the highway patrol, Lahr’s speed, determined to be between 55 and 60 mph in the 55 mph zone, caused the crash. The report concluded she should have seen the traffic slowing down in front of her.
Highway patrol officer George Kirbyson pointed out it is a driver’s responsibility to be ready for anything while driving.
“It could have been a dog (in the road), it could have been a tree, it could have been a stalled vehicle,” Kirbyson said.
The Lahrs, who are now relying on Carrie’s unemployment checks, don’t see the crash the same way.
“(People) shouldn’t throw bowling balls down the road,” Carrie Lahr said.
To help the Lahrs, donations can be sent to P.O. Box 1021, Penn Valley 95946.
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