San Francisco, CA Cable Car Accident, Dec 1967


San Francisco, Calif. (UPI) -- A rainy night excursion on a cable car turned into a fiery horror for dozens of passengers Sunday night when the tiny vehicle careened out of control through a maze of cars at the bottom of one of the city's steepest hills.
Of the 43 persons injured, 13 were from San Mateo County.
The cable car smashed into the side of one automobile containing seven members of a Pacifica family, setting it ablaze and slamming in into another car and critically injuring its two occupants. Five other cars were damaged in the wreck.
Of the 43 persons injured, six were children. Twelve were hospitalized, four of them so badly hurt they were listed as critical for several hours.
Hospital authorities reported early today that only one remained on the critical list -- three-year-old DAVID B. TAYLOR of 1212 Crespi Drive, Pacifica, who suffered third degree burns over most of his body.
The other San Mateo County injured were:
U.S. Coast Guard Chief Petty Officer ROBERT TAYLOR, 30, of Pacifica, father of DAVID, second degree burns of legs and arms.
JUDITH TAYLOR, 29, the wife and mother, second degree burns of legs and back.
SIDNEY TAYLOR, 20, brother of ROBERT, leg injury.
the ROBERT TAYLOR'S following children:
JUDITH, 8, first degree burns of the knees.
PAT, 7, second degree burns on the body.
JAMES, 5, second degree burns of the hands and face.
All are in Letterman General Hospital.
HARLEY SONNENBERG, 58, and his wife, IRENE, 58, of 31 Fairmont Drive, Daly City, treated at Mission Emergency Hospital.
LEWIS ABLES, 24, 119 Los Banos, Daly City.
BRIAN CARO, 28, and his wife, SHIRLEY, 22, of Redwood City.
SUSANNE ANDERSON, 22, of 10 Poinsetta Avenue, San Mateo.
Several passengers, their clothes afire, were knocked to the ground from their seats along the outside of the picturesque cable car.
"There was a sudden flash in the sky and a big flash of smoke erupted from the area," said Vern Carlson, who was eating dinner in his high rise apartment overlooking the crash site.
The grinding accident resulted when the car lost its pincer-like grip on the twisted steel cable that buzzes under the tracks at a continuous nine miles an hour. It was one of the most spectacular mishaps involving cable cars since the colorful hill-climbers went into service nearly a century ago.
Shattered glass littered the street and sidewalks as the stunned, moaning passengers staggered to nearby doorways. Residents rushed to the street with blankets and first aid materials.
"There was a muffled explosion and a ball of fire as the cable car continued through the intersection and down the next block trailing fire and pushing a car which was burning," said Derek Stewart, 25, a social worker.
Stewart said he was waiting in his car to cross the busy Hyde and Bay Street intersection when the cable car came through and scattered autos "like toys."
Police said the seven members of the TAYLOR family were in the burning car.
Stewart jumped out of his car and with the help of another man smothered flames licking at the clothing of two small children who were thrown to the rainsoaked intersection.
Passengers on the cable car said the gripman shouted at the top of the three-block long hill that he had "lost the rope."
"Rope" is the term used by gripmen for the 1 1/4-inch twisted steel over hemp cable that moves steadily under the car tracks.
Passengers said the gripman and conductor decided to descend the long grade overlooking Alcatraz and the Golden Gate using the car's three brakes for control.
As the cable car raced toward the intersection it tripped an automatic switch that controls the traffic light at the bottom of the hill, but the light did not change in time to stop the flow of traffic.
The cable car smashed broadside into one car and sparks ignited gas from its ruptured fuel tank. Six more cars were involved in the chain reaction crash that followed. The cable car still on the tracks, continued on for two blocks before stopping.
Two persons in an auto that was hit by the burning car were among those temporarily on the critical list. They were the driver, HARLEY SONNENBERG, and his wife, IRENE, of Daly City.
One passenger, HARRY G. MacKENZIE, 50, of Wilton, Conn., said he and his 17-year-old son, BRUCE, "headed for the back of the car when it began rolling pretty fast."
"Next thing we knew we hit a car and there was a big ball of flame," MacKENZIE said.
Another passenger on the cable car, GILBERT G. KAUTZ, 54, who was showing visiting friends the city, said the whole thing "probably took two or three seconds, but it seemed like 15 minutes."

San Mateo Times California 1967-12-04

Transcribers Note:
DAVID B. TAYLOR, 3-year-old son of ROBERT and JUDITH TAYLOR, died from his burns on December 23rd.


The Taylors as Neighbors

I lived across the street from the Taylors' at 1164 Banyan Way in Pacifica for several years before moving to Idaho in 1976 . The physical and emotional scars were still visible on them from that horrific night and my father Donald L. Walden , a respected police officer was one of the many officers from SFPD who responded to the crash . It was the worse he had seen in his 12 year career there and 20 year career with the Twin Falls Police Department where he retired from as a detective sergeant in 1997 . A long lasting friendship continuing to this day developed between our family and the Taylors . We shared the pain of their loss and wish them all but the best .