Pickup plummets into Bay, kills driver

A man at the wheel of a white Toyota pickup truck barreled down a Treasure Island street, flew over the berm of a seawall and plunged into the frigid Bay water on Monday afternoon.

The middle-aged man, who was the sole occupant of the white Toyota Tacoma, later died at the hospital.

Witnesses saw the truck speeding down 13th Street near Avenue N at more than 50 mph. The truck plunged into the water at about 1:45 p.m. after hitting a dirt ramp and flying at least 30 feet.

Martin Swank was in his office, a trailer at 901 13th St., when the truck zipped past. As a safety officer for Rubicon Landscape Services, Swank left his office to tell the driver to slow down, but when he went outside, the truck was nowhere to be found.

Swank realized the truck was in the water within a minute when a San Francisco Fire Department rescue boat arrived to help the driver. A rescue squad from the Fire Department left the station at Folsom and 19th streets and reached the scene of the crash at the northeast side of the island minutes later with diving equipment on, Fire Department Lt. Ken Smith said.

“The Fire Department hollered for the guy to roll down the window,” Swank said. “The guy didn’t seem to want to get out.”

After floating on the water for two to three minutes, the truck sank abruptly with its tail sticking out of the waters, which can be as deep as 24 feet in the area.

Crews broke one of the truck’s windows and pulled the man out of the water at about 2:10 p.m., according to Smith. The victim was unconscious and was not breathing when he was taken ashore to a waiting ambulance that took him to the hospital, Smith said.

Paramedics took him to a local hospital where he died.

The driver, a man between the ages of 30 and 40 years old, was unidentified as of Monday evening, according to Smith.

Relying on witness reports, it appears as though the man deliberately drove the truck off the edge, said Capt. Daniel McDonagh with Southern Station, which includes Treasure Island.

“He seemed very determined to go off the end there,” McDonagh said, pointing to a sloping seawall where fishermen often cast their lines.

Divers from the Police Department attached a tow cable to the truck, and it was pulled from the Bay almost three hours later. The Tacoma had paper plates on the back.

The U.S. Coast Guard also responded to the scene and has launched an investigation into a possible pollution threat caused by the vehicle in the water, according to Lt. j.g. Jeremy Pichette.

Secrets of Treasure Island

  • Treasure Island has a rocky seawall that protects the man-made isle from the surrounding Bay waters.
  • The island sits on the shoal of nearby Yerba Buena Island, but unlike its rocky neighbor, it is built with dredged dirt.
  • The flat San Francisco Bay island was constructed for the Golden Gate International Exposition in 1939, and was later used by the U.S. Navy.
  • Now, the protective embankments that ring the island — and extend just yards above the Bay — protect housing and commercial property on the island, which is slated for redevelopment.

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