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1 Killed, 6 Hurt in Crash With Fire Engine

March 11, 2009 |  7:00 am

Photograph by George T. Fry / Los Angeles Times

Sepulveda Boulevard near Ohio Avenue, May 3, 1961.

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Sepulveda and Ohio via Google maps' street view.

1961_0504_crashOn a morning in May 1961, two 16-year-olds, Judith and Susan, were on their way to University High School. They were apparently juniors as The Times noted that they were wearing their 1962 class sweaters. According to The Times, the Oldsmobile belonged to Susan's father, Roy, but the story implies that Judith was driving.

About 8:27 a.m., the car made a left turn from northbound Sepulveda Boulevard onto westbound Ohio Avenue, where it was struck by an oncoming fire engine speeding to a rubbish fire on Santa Monica Boulevard. The fire engine pushed the crumpled car 145 feet before crashing into two parked vehicles.

Judith was thrown from the car and died before ambulances arrived. Firefighters Philip Toppenberg, Ferdinand Tichenor and Ben Berk tumbled from the back of the fire engine. Driver Frank E. Miller, who was strapped into his seat, was cut on the face and body and William S. Brown, who was riding next to him, suffered a broken leg and internal injuries.

1966_0410_olander_2 And although it took rescuers half an hour to remove her from the wreckage, Susan survived, The Times said.

I found the picture of the crash while going through historic Fire Department photos last weekend. At first it seemed like one of those horrible car wreck pictures that were a staple of driver's ed when I was in high school. Even today, it is a ghastly crash, espcially given the tender ages of the two young women.

But I kept wondering if there was more. The Times never reported anything further about the injured firefighters. A little research shows that Judith Ann Egelhoff, 16, was given a memorial service at Westood Presbyterian Church and her father, John, established a memorial fund in her name at West Los Angeles WYCA. (The Times story noted that Judith's mother had been killed in a crash crash five years earlier). 

In what looks like a miracle, Susan recovered and returned to school, according to The Times. A year later, she was vice president of the senior class. She attended UCLA, was a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority, and in 1966 married a law student named Robert W. Thomas.