A woman died Monday when the 18-foot motor home she was driving crashed down the staircase that runs through the heart of the University of Washington Tacoma campus.
Witnesses reported the 65-year-old driver was yelling for help as the motor home sped down South 19th Street toward the staircase, Tacoma police spokeswoman Loretta Cool said.
Investigators believe the vehicle experienced a mechanical problem as there were no indications the driver could stop it, she said.
The driver was identified by the Pierce County Medical Examiner as Peggy Wilby of Shoreline. She was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Tacoma Fire Department.
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No one else was in the motor home, and no pedestrians were hit in the crash, Cool said.
The accident happened about 1:30 p.m., after the vehicle picked up speed and hit a concrete barrier and a large planter where 19th Street intersects Jefferson Avenue, according to police.
The owner of The Swiss Restaurant & Pub, the business across the street from where the motor home hit the barrier, said he was talking with customers when he saw the crash over their shoulders.
“I saw the motor home slam into the planter box, and it disintegrated,” Jack McQuade said. “She must have been going 60 or 70. Dirt went everywhere.”
People at the restaurant ran to try to help.
“It was something else,” McQuade said. “Everybody left all their lunches and ran out.”
Several construction crew members working at UW Tacoma and nearby also hurried to try to help, McQuade and other witnesses said.
Worker Marty Mundy, who was about half a block away from the crash, said a woman screaming at the scene when he rushed over reportedly was the driver’s daughter.
Cool said she couldn’t confirm whether any relatives were present at or just after the wreck.
“So sad,” said student Charlene Briggs, standing outside by the crash site on a break from her philosophy class.
The campus community was in shock about the wreck, she said.
“I think dumbfounded,” Briggs said.
One of her classmates, who declined to give his name, said he saw the crash from about 100 yards away.
“In about an instant, I saw the van, then I didn’t see the van and there was a big crash and dust exploded into the alleyway,” he said. “When it landed, it wasn’t even waist high. It seemed to have just crumbled, the vehicle itself.”
He also believed the woman screaming on the steps to be a relative of the driver.
“Blood curdling,” he said. “I thought it was her that had been hit.”
UW Tacoma was offering counseling to students or employees who saw the crash.