Rescue Crews at Devil's Slide

First responders debrief after their work to recover a vehicle and its driver on Sept. 15. The vehicle went over the cliff south of Devil’s Slide. Photo courtesy Cal Fire

A driver fell to his death on Sept. 15 after he drove over the cliff just south of the Devil’s Slide tunnels, bringing a barrage of emergency first responders and shutting down a portion of Highway 1 for several hours.

Authorities identified the driver the next day as 73-year-old Anthony Colonnese Jr. of San Francisco. Media reports say Colonnese was ejected from the vehicle and found dead on the beach below the roadway. California Highway Patrol said there were no other occupants in the vehicle, which went off the road near the former military bunker south of the tunnels.

Around 2 p.m., Cal Fire and CHP reported that a black sport utility vehicle drove over the cliff. An eyewitness described a terrifying moment leading up to the crash. Marion Bliss told the Review she was driving northbound with her son shortly after 2 p.m. when they saw the vehicle accelerate quickly out of the Gray Whale Cove State Beach parking lot and head north toward the tunnel. Bliss said it appeared the rear right tire was flat.

“He was speeding so much the tire basically disintegrated and pieces of the tire were flying around us,” she said.

Bliss said she kept a safe distance from the car but saw it veer left at full speed and go over the cliff near the former military bunker. She said it did not appear that the tire caused the vehicle to lose control.

“There were a couple of girls standing there when it happened and they were just covering their mouths, not believing what they saw,” Bliss said.

CHP dispatchers indicated the vehicle landed on its wheels on the beach below. Emergency crews from the Coastside Fire Protection District, North Coast Fire Authority, San Mateo County Fire Department, American Medical Response, the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office, and Caltrans responded to the call. CHP dispatched one helicopter.

First responders were on the scene for more than four hours. Traffic was backed up north and south of the tunnels as law enforcement conducted one-way traffic control for more than three hours. CHP reopened the southbound lane at 7 p.m.

August Howell is a staff writer for the Review covering city government and public safety. Previously, he was the Review’s community, arts and sports reporter. He studied journalism at the University of Oregon.

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