Palo Alto Family Killed in Fiery Collision in British Columbia

Friends, family and strangers share on a website their sadness and offer words of comfort and fresh memories of the parents and girls.

A Palo Alto family of four was killed Friday in a fiery crash with a tractor-trailer rig while they were vacationing in British Columbia, the Canadian Broadcasting Co. reported Saturday.

Robert Howard, 49; his wife, Ana-Maria Dias, 50; and daughters Samantha, 12, and Veronica, 9, were killed in Kootenay National Park, when a tractor trailer crossed the center line on rain-slicked Highway 93 and jack-knifed into the path of family's camper, CBC reported.

The Vancouver Sun reported that the fuel tanks on the truck ignited and exploded, engulfing the van. The Sun quoted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police Cpl. Dan Moskaluk, who said they initially did not know where the van was from; it was so badly damaged in the fire that its license plates were unrecognizable.

The Sun also reported in a second story how witnesses told the police that the van drove onto the road's shoulder "as the driver tried valiantly to swerve away from the approaching truck before it pinned the van against the barrier and the vehicles ignited in flames."

CBC reported that witnesses to the accident, north of the town of Radium Hot Springs, were able to help the truck driver to safety, but the family van was pinned by the tractor-trailer against a guard rail, and the flames were too intense. 

The driver was detained but later released and not charged, the network reported.

The family, active and well-known in school circles, was remembered by dozens of shocked friends and acquaintances on a website, robertandanamaria.com, created by Howard's family to help disseminate information and allow people to share memories.

Howard was the vice president of engineering for San Francisco-based Lunar, an engineering and industrial design firm, according to the website. He was born in Boston but grew up in Palo Alto when his father began to teach at Stanford University. Dias, described as outgoing and gracious, was a native of Angola, who moved to the U.S. during the civil war that began in 1975. She was known for her volunteering in their daughters' schools.

Samantha Howard, who went by the nickname, Sam, attended Jane Lathrop Stanford Middle School. Veronica Howard, known as Nica, attended El Carmelo Elementary School.

"We, and the JLS and El Carmelo communities will miss you, Robert, Sam and Nica so much," wrote Kieran Sherlock on Ana-Maria's page, where others recalled her creativity in costuming a theater production at El Carmelo.

"I loved cheering for the girls & can remember calling out Sam’s name many times for great plays," wrote Kari Sreenivasen recalling her daughter and Sam playing volleyball team together. "We are just heartbroken to learn about the accident."

Howard is survived by his father, Ron, of Palo Alto; his sister, Kim Saxe and her husband, Tim, of Los Altos; his brother, David, of Menlo Park; his brother, John and his wife Cindy, of Palo Alto; a nephew, Andrew, of Palo Alto; three nieces, Amanda, Laurel, and Gwen, of Palo Alto; and an uncle, Burton Hatheway, of Bridgeport, CT. He was preceded in death by his mother, Polly, who died in 1997.

The family camped often in the Eastern Sierra and all around, according to famlly members, who set up the website. Howard also enjoyed off-road motorbiking and had begun to share that passion with daughter, Nica.

Canadian locals in the mountainous wilderness where the crash took place were moved by the accident and offered their condolences online.

"We live in Radium Hot Springs and are truly sorry that such a devastating accident has happened to what I read was a wonderful family," was a post from a person identified as "loganfamily."

"Our thoughts and sympathies are with the families and friends in their home town."

Dave Reid July 26, 2011 at 11:10 PM
See this piece of video http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RIaO9oFXuR4 which shows the area where this horrific accident occurred. I think at 01:52 (travelling north to south), and 02:52? (travelling south to north) in the video is the location.
Claudia Cruz (Editor) July 26, 2011 at 11:44 PM
Thanks Dave. We actually have the link to a video up in the photo box captured right after the accident. It's raw video sent into a local Canadian news station.
Tom August 12, 2011 at 06:14 PM
Very sorry about this. I drive this route quite often heavily loaded with explosive product and know that this was totally preventable. This truck driver could not have stopped at the brake check about 400 meters behind him at the top of the hill. If he had stopped at the brake check, in my opinion, he could not have built up enough speed in such a short space of time to lose control on the curve and decline immediately after the Brake Check. It was raining and with empty trailers, it was easier to lose control on a wet surface, and he was cocky because he had no weight behind him. Bad combination. My condolences are a poor offering, but it is all I can do. There is now a nice white sign and cross at the site with their names on it. I for one, will think of them at least every time I pass the site.
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