Wednesday, July 18, 2018     Volume: 19, Issue: 19

Santa Maria Sun / News

The following article was posted on September 6th, 2017, in the Santa Maria Sun - Volume 18, Issue 27 [ Submit a Story ]
The following articles were printed from Santa Maria Sun [] - Volume 18, Issue 27

Local Forest Service chief killed in truck crash


A Los Padres National Forest battalion chief stationed in Santa Maria was killed in a head-on collision on Aug. 31 while driving his truck home from the Railroad Fire in the Sierra National Forest.

U.S. Forest Service Santa Lucia District Battalion Chief Gary Helming, 47, was driving southbound on State Route 41 when Antonio Avalos, 25, who was driving the opposite direction, lost control of his service truck after the left front tire suddenly deflated and caused him to swerve into the southbound lane, according to a California Highway Patrol press release.

Santa Maria-stationed U.S. Forest Service Battalion Chief Gary Helming was returning home from the Railroad Fire in the Sierra National Forest when he died in a head-on collision on California Route 41.

Helming sustained fatal injuries from the head-on crash while Avalos was transported to a nearby hospital with major injuries.

Born in El Cajon, Helming began work with the U.S. Forest Service 22 years ago as a seasonal firefighter, according to a Los Padres National Forest press release. He worked for the Bureau of Land Management and the National Park Service before returning to the Forest Service again in 2013.

Helming is survived by his wife, three children, and their family.

“Our hearts go out to Gary’s family, the Forest Service, and the wildland fire community—he exemplified the highest standards of honor and professionalism,” Los Padres Deputy Forest Supervisor Ken Heffner said in the release. “Gary was a tremendous leader, partner, and thoughtful person who engaged with everyone. He will be greatly missed.”

Coalinga Area CHP Officer Steve Schuh told the Sun that while fatal collisions were not prevalent in one specific area, Route 41 did seem to have fairly frequent incidents.

“We get ’em all over the place, but there are a lot of crashes out there for that short stretch of road,” Schuh said. “It’s a two lane highway—one lane each direction going 55 miles per hour—and we patrol it every day and we know people are not going 55 out there.

“Most of the time somebody is out there towing their trailer to Pismo [Beach] or something and traffic gets backed up,” he added, “and you get somebody who wants to be in a hurry and makes a pass and that’s why the majority of collisions we see there are head-on.”

CHP officials said the collision is still under investigation but that alcohol or drugs are not believed to be involved.

A public memorial service honoring Helming was scheduled for after the Sun’s press time, on Sept. 6, at the Pacific Christian Center in Santa Maria.

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