Image: Accident scene
Keith D. Cullom  /  AP
Firefighters search the site where a gravel truck smashed into a home Tuesday in Santa Barbara, Calif.
updated 8/24/2010 4:14:25 PM ET 2010-08-24T20:14:25

A runaway truck hauling tons of gravel flew off an embankment Tuesday after its brakes failed and crushed a home, killing a man, woman and child, authorities said.

The truck careened from State Highway 154, barreled across a street and hit two parked cars before plunging down a driveway, over the embankment and onto the house, Santa Barbara County fire Capt. David Sadecki said.

"Completely flattened it," he said of the home.

The truck was hauling two loaded trailers and displayed a sign indicating it could carry 26 tons of gravel, Sadecki said. A California Highway Patrol website that logs traffic incidents said its brakes failed.

Searchers scrambled to dig out rubble and gravel under the truck to reach the victims.

Neighbors had said a fourth person might have been in the house, but Sadecki said it was later determined he had left before the crash.

Next-door neighbor Erasmo Zapien, 64, said he heard an enormous crash and saw the family's house collapse.

"Everything fell down," he said. "It was completely down."

The truck driver was treated for a minor facial cut after the vehicle landed on the 1,000-square-foot, wooden home that had been built more than 50 years ago just outside the Santa Barbara city limits.

It was one of two homes on the lot that were surrounded by mini-storage units. Both sat below the embankment and could not be seen from the roadway.

The trucker may have been trying to avoid a nearby hotel when he went into the driveway, Sadecki said.

Barbra Trouche, who runs the front office at Aegis Medical Systems, called 911 when a patient who had just left ran back inside and said there had been a wreck.

"He saw the truck barreling through the intersection all the way to the end of the driveway," Trouche said.

Trouche went to look and noticed that cars belonging to two employees had been plowed aside by the truck.

Coroner's officials did not immediately identify the victims.

Zapien identified the family living in the house as Leo Leon, 23; his wife Lorena, 27; and their 7-year-old son. Zapien did not name the son. The family had moved to the U.S. from Oaxaca, Mexico, about five years ago, he said.

Leo Leon worked as a chef and Lorena Leon as a housewife, he said.

Zapien said he recently saw the family in good spirits preparing to celebrate Leo Leon's 24th birthday on Friday.

"They were very friendly, very good people," he said.

Santa Barbara is about 75 miles north of Los Angeles. The crash site is not known for accidents. State Highway 154 is flat for about 1½ miles before it reaches the intersection.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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