Watch recovered tow truck emerge from Sacramento River
After nearly three weeks of anguished waiting, the family of Shalvinesh and Roselyn Sharma stood on a bike path near the Sacramento marina and watched Sunday morning as crews extracted a mangled tow truck – along with one of its two passengers – that had careened off the Pioneer Bridge into the dark, fast-moving waters of the Sacramento River in March.
The tow truck had been at the bottom of the river, more than 30 feet underwater, since a March 26 accident that pushed the vehicle and its occupants over the railings. A private recovery crew had spent more than two days trying to wrest the vehicle from the murky bottom amid cold and swift currents after multiple law enforcement agencies worked for two weeks to locate the vehicle.
A woman’s body was found inside the tow truck, CHP spokesman Michael Bradley said Sunday morning, and later in the day the woman was identified as Roselyn Sharma. Family members watching from the shore said they felt relieved that she had been found.
“I’m kind of blessed, a lot of people came up to us and said their prayers,” said Justin Singh, Roselyn’s brother. “It worked ... because we got her today, this morning from the tow truck, she’s there.”
The couple’s 17-year-old son, Justin Sharma, was among the crowd of family gathered to watch the vehicle’s recovery on Sunday.
“I’m happy that we at least got some type of closure, but it’s still sad,” he said through tears.
Friends and family of the Sharmas, owners of local Justin’s Towing, said the married couple was on the way to a call the night of March 26. About 8:30 p.m., their truck sent out a GPS ping from near the middle of the Pioneer Bridge, which spans Sacramento and West Sacramento.
After that, the GPS transmissions stopped, and search and recovery efforts began.
Authorities did not know the exact location of the vehicle after it careened off the bridge, which delayed recovery efforts by more than a week. On April 1, the vehicle was found with the help of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. sonar technology, Bradley said, which is normally used to monitor underwater infrastructure.
Shalvinesh Sharma’s body was found Thursday morning about five miles downstream near Sacramento’s Pocket neighborhood, recovered by Sacramento and West Sacramento fire crews and positively identified by the Yolo County coroner’s office. The body had reportedly been seen by a park ranger, who witnessed it floating in the river, according to a Sacramento Fire Department official.
Closure for friends and family was drawn out over nearly two and a half weeks, as rescue and recovery efforts by dive teams were repeatedly called off due to the unsafe speed of the Sacramento River’s current, CHP said.
Family members on Wednesday were able to secure power of attorney for Justin’s Towing, CHP said, and arranged with an insurance company to contract Global Diving and Salvage, a private Bay Area-based company that routed a barge to Sacramento.
The barge arrived late Thursday and dive operations began Friday morning with the goal of pulling the truck out from under about 30 feet of water and bringing it to shore. Crews not only had to contend with treacherous currents but other dangers, including the footings of the bridge and a high-pressure gas line under the river operated by PG&E.
CHP South Sacramento spokesman Officer Jim Young said divers were able to touch the truck Friday for the first time since search and recovery efforts began last month. However, the challenge was the zero visibility that deep in the water; Young said divers worked “by touch” to identify spots on the truck that were sturdiest and to which chains could be attached.
With water running faster 30 feet under water than at the surface, Young said that divers told him it was like trying to hang on to a flagpole in a hurricane.
“The first diver was out there for probably two hours on the first day, just trying to get a hands-on feel of exactly what they were working with,” Bradley said. “In the past few days, they’ve been securing the vehicle so that it won’t interfere with any infrastructure that PG&E and Caltrans have down there.”
The crumbling white tow truck had lost its engine and several of its windows by the time it was pulled out of the water on Sunday. It will be secured onto the barge and taken to a CHP office for an inspection, Bradley said, with the hopes of determining what led to the fatal collision.
Family members and friends have turned the Mill Street Pier in West Sacramento into a makeshift vigil, adorned with a collection of candles, flowers and keepsakes. Family members gathered at the bike path near the Sacramento marina said they were ready to make funeral plans after the truck was recovered on Sunday.
“My brother-in-law and my sister, they worked together, they had a loving marriage, they built a business together,” said Justin Singh, Roselyn’s brother. “And they died together in the same accident. It’s very sad. We want to do the service together as well, we want to make sure we praise their souls from our family that came all over the place.”