Last Thursday afternoon, lifelong Inverness resident Trygve Hansen died when his car rolled 500 feet down a steep embankment off Ridgecrest Boulevard, a scenic road that winds above Stinson Beach in Mount Tamalpais State Park. His 13-year-old son, Theo Milner-Hansen, who had been asleep in the passenger seat, survived the crash with cuts and bruises and came home from the hospital on Monday.
After plunging down the slope, the car hit a tree and ejected both father and son. Molli Milner, Theo’s mother, received a call from Theo while he lay at the scene, trying to understand what had happened.
“Theo said he woke up because they had seemingly accelerated. He said he saw the ocean, though that must’ve just been the fog,” she recalled. “He explained that they had rolled, end over end and also around.”
Molli, who called 911 immediately after talking to her son, described how calm he was, and how he thought to share his location on his cell phone with her.
It turned out that he had been thrown onto another car—a rusted, abandoned one also at the bottom of the steep slope. Though at first Theo was stuck, he managed to remove himself and get into a better position to wait.
Molli and her fiancé, Jonathan Dearman, left San Francisco for the scene of the accident. They received a text from Theo while on their way: “I have to go now, they are rescuing me.”
Theo and his father had been coming home from Ruth Asawa School of the Arts in San Francisco, where Theo is a ninth grader, after graduating from the Bolinas School last year. They were traveling west on Ridgecrest Boulevard, between Panoramic Highway and the Bolinas-Fairfax Road. A tight curve on the boulevard, near Willow Camp Fire Road, may have caused Trygve to lose control.
Molli said she wasn’t sure why they took that road—maybe to avoid traffic. It wasn’t common for them to do so, though Trygve surely knew the road well. The route is typically breathtaking, but the day was foggy and offered limited visibility, according to the sheriff’s report.
Theo suffered bruises on his stomach and hip, where the seat belt had dug into him; he also has deep gashes on both legs and required several stitches on his forehead. “The [first responders] told me that no one should have made it, no one should have survived that crash,” Jonathan said.
Molli added, “The number of miracles—that I picked up the phone, that he had service in the first place, that he was leaned back a little in his seat to sleep, which might have helped protect him from hitting the dash—it was like someone wrapped him in bubble wrap to fall down that mountain.”
Emergency responders from Stinson Beach, Throckmorton, Southern Marin and Mill Valley fire departments, the California Highway Patrol, California State Parks and the Marin County Sheriff’s Office responded to the scene. Henry Bustamante, a fire engineer stationed at Throckmorton—a station about a 15-minute drive from the scene of the accident—told the Light that helicopters had been dispatched, but they couldn’t fly in because of the fog. In the end, responders used a rope pulley system to bring up both father and son in rescue baskets.
It was the second fatal accident Mr. Bustamante and others responded to on Ridgecrest Boulevard in the last month. On the morning of March 23, San Rafael resident Brad de la Garza, 55, died when his car drove off the road a quarter-mile from where Theo and his father left the road.
“There are not that many calls we respond to on that road,” Mr. Bustamante said. “In general, it is tourists who take the road for the view, though that was not so in these two cases.”
The rescue crew transported Theo to Marin General Hospital. Trygve was pronounced dead at the scene; the cause and manner of his death are pending the conclusion of an investigation by the highway patrol, state parks and the sheriff’s office.
Trygve retired from computer engineering a few years ago, and has lived in Inverness, where he grew up and where many of his family members still live, for the majority of his life. He is survived by his son, his brother Michael Hansen of Santa Rosa and his sister, Jackie Hansen Cardwell Inverness. He was 53 years old.
“He loved nature, he loved Inverness: that was his home. It was so important to him that Theo share that and have Inverness in his life. The love of Inverness and love of nature are such defining aspects. And at the center of everything was Theo,” Molli said.
She and Trygve separated when Theo was 2, though she lived in West Marin until recently, when she relocated to San Francisco. The founder of Small Blue Planet, a company that organizes weddings and other events with a focus on environmental sustainability, she still works in the area.
A memorial will be held for Trygve later this month. Donations to a fund for Theo’s college education can be made to a Wells Fargo account under Molli Milner’s name.