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Northridge at 20: Truck driver who escaped collapse recalls his near miss

Northridge Earthquake Truck Driver

Ken Scarboro/KPCC

Ervin "Nick" Nichols has been a truck driver for 51 years, driving mostly from from Oregon to Southern California. In 1994 he was on I-5 near the 14 Freeway when the Northridge Earthquake hit. The quake collapsed the road in front and behind Nichols' truck leaving him stranded on the overpass.

Northridge Earthquake Truck Driver

Ken Scarboro/KPCC

Ervin Nichols has been a truck driver for 51 years, driving mostly from from Oregon to Southern California. In 1994 he was on I-5 near the 14 Freeway when the Northridge Earthquake hit. The quake collapsed the the road in front and behind Nichols' truck leaving him stranded on the overpass.

Ervin "Nick" Nichols

Jed Kim

Nick Nichols has been driving a truck for 51 years.

Northridge Earthquake Dean Family - 1

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Guy William Dean, 45, son of LAPD Officer Clarence Wayne Dean. Wife Kimberly and daughters Brittany, 13, and Courtney Dean, 9.

Northridge Earthquake Dean Family - 5

Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Guy William Dean, 45, son of LAPD Officer Clarence Wayne Dean. Wife Kimberly and daughters Brittany, 13, and Courtney Dean, 9.

Clarence Wayne Dean shoes

Jed Kim

A plaque and portrait hang in the station of the Valley Traffic Division, memorializing Clarence Wayne Dean, who died on January 17, 1994, when his motorcycle plunged off a broken portion of the freeway.


Ervin "Nick" Nichols was driving a truck south along the 5 Freeway when the Northridge Earthquake hit 20 years ago, causing a section of bridge to drop out in front of his rig. He barely managed to stop, mere inches from a more than 70 foot drop.

Officer Clarence Wayne Dean wasn’t as fortunate. He plunged to his death from a collapse in the interchange that now bears his name as a memorial.

Despite their drastically different outcomes that day, the men shared many similarities. Both were in their late-40s, both loved driving and both became instant icons of the 6.7 magnitude earthquake, their images broadcast across national news. KPCC's Jed Kim reports.


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