Conviction announced in canyon crash that claimed three lives

On March 19, 2021, Karen Yvonne Schwamb, age 51 of Twain, was convicted by Plumas County Superior Court Judge Janet Hilde of three felony counts of Gross Vehicular Manslaughter while Intoxicated.

Schwamb’s conviction stems from an incident on Feb. 5, 2018, where Schwamb was driving her Subaru Outback eastbound in the Feather River Canyon on Highway 70 approaching Soda Creek Road. Schwamb was arguing with her passenger and was later determined to have a blood alcohol content of .05 as well as prescription drugs in her system. As Schwamb approached a curve in the highway she crossed the double yellow lines to pass another vehicle and struck a westbound Ford F150 pickup truck, killing the driver; and then a motorcycle, killing the driver and passenger.

“We have been pursuing this prosecution for three long years and are glad we were able to obtain these convictions for the victims’ families and for Plumas County. The DA’s office continues to extend our sympathies to the victims’ families and friends and I cannot state how much I appreciate their patience and dignity during this wrenching process,” said District Attorney David Hollister. This case is a tragic reminder of how unforgiving our mountain roads can be, especially when combined with impaired driving and criminal decisions.”

Hollister went on to share his appreciation for the “excellent efforts” by the California Highway Patrol – Quincy Division (Officers James Stowe and Reese McAllister and Lt. Erik Egide), the California Department of Justice and the District Attorneys’ Investigations Division during the investigation and prosecution.


Schwamb is scheduled to be sentenced on May 7, 2021 when it is expected she will receive the maximum sentence allowed by law of 14 years in state prison. Following is the account of the incident that appeared in Feather Publishing’s newspapers and on Plumas News at the time.

The collision

Following a crash that claimed the lives of three people, Karen Yvonne Schwamb of Twain is interviewed at the scene by California Highway Patrol officer James Stowe. File photo by Victoria Metcalf

Schwamb was driving eastbound on Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon Feb. 5, 2018 at a speed of 80 mph, according to the report by the California Highway Patrol. Schwamb allegedly went to pass a slower moving pickup truck although there was a double-yellow line and a right-hand curve in the roadway. She passed the pickup, but then ran nearly head-on into a westbound 1997 Ford F-150, being driven by Tom Fridrich, 61, of Belden. The Ford was traveling at 55 mph, according to the CHP.

Two Paradise residents, John Aaron Lowe, 46, and Crystal Ann Smith, 40, were traveling behind the Ford on a 2016 Kawasaki Concourse motorcycle. They were also traveling at approximately 55 mph.


During the collision, the Outback struck the left front of the Ford. It then rode up on it striking the driver’s compartment. The force of the impact threw the Ford into the mountainside on the north side of the highway. The Ford then rolled into the opposite lane where it came to rest facing the mountain.

Although Fridrich was wearing his seatbelt during the crash, he died at the scene.

Following the collision with the Ford, the Outback, with Schwamb and her passenger seat-belted inside, landed in the westbound lane, swerved partially into the eastbound lane and then back into the westbound lane.

This action caused it to begin rolling over with the right side leading. The right rear side of the Outback struck the ground at the centerline of the highway.

This action caused it to begin rolling over with the right side leading. The right rear side of the Outback struck the ground at the centerline of the highway.


While the Outback was rolling over onto its right side, the motorcycle struck the hood, windshield and roof of the Outback. The impact caused the Outback to roll back over onto its wheels facing westbound and blocking the westbound lane. The motorcycle came to rest on its right side facing north.

Although Lowe and Smith were wearing their helmets, they died at the scene. According to a “Go Fund Me” page, the couple was planning to wed in May.