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Woman charged with three murders in fatal canyon crash

Karen Yvonne Schwamb, 48, of Twain is shown in her booking photo at the county jail. During the crash she sustained injuries to her forehead and was transported to Plumas District Hospital where she was treated and released into custody of the sheriff’s office. Photo submitted

Three counts of murder and a fourth count of felony driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs and causing injury in a prior conviction were filed in a criminal complaint against a Twain resident Feb. 9.

Karen Yvonne Schwamb, 48, is allegedly responsible for the deaths of three people in a three-vehicle collision Feb. 5. The crash occurred at 2:19 p.m. on Highway 70 near Soda Creek Road. A passenger in the 2017 Subaru Outback Schwamb was driving also sustained minor injuries.

Bail was set at $3 million. She is in custody in the Plumas County Sheriff’s Corrections Center.

Calling it a “horrible tragedy,” Plumas County District Attorney David Hollister filed charges against Schwamb. If convicted, Schwamb faces 48 years to life in state prison.

Schwamb was initially charged with DUI causing fatal injuries and manslaughter by the Quincy area California Highway Patrol.

“During the course of the ongoing investigation, evidence was located allegedly demonstrating ‘implied malice,’” Hollister said.

Explaining this, Hollister said in the 1981 case of People v. Watson, the California Supreme Court held that a defendant may be convicted of second degree murder based upon facts supporting a charge of vehicular manslaughter while under the influence if the evidence establishes “implied malice.”

Hollister further explained that implied malice might be present if the death resulted from an intentional act, the natural consequences of the act are dangerous to human life and the act was deliberately performed with knowledge of the danger to, and with conscious disregard for, human life.

According to the criminal complaint, the fourth count involves the injury of her passenger in the Subaru Schwamb was driving. James Timberlake, 58, of Twain sustained minor injuries and was transported to Plumas District Hospital where he was treated and released.

The criminal complaint shows that Schwamb was involved in a previous driving offense and convicted in 2010 in Reno Municipal Court. Further information on that conviction was not available.

“Although initial charges have been filed, the investigation remains ongoing and active,” according to Hollister.

Schwamb was scheduled for arraignment Wednesday, Feb. 7, at 3 p.m., but that date was moved to Friday, Feb. 9, and then again to Friday, Feb. 16, to give her time to get legal representation.

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. Photo by Victoria Metcalf

Schwamb was driving eastbound on Highway 70 in the Feather River Canyon at a speed of 80 mph, according to the CHP report. 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.

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 an Internet “Go Fund Me” page, the couple was planning to wed in May.

2 thoughts on “Woman charged with three murders in fatal canyon crash

  • My deepest sympathies to the families of the victims. This is a senseless tragedy and this woman should serve a life sentence for each victim. Cold blooded neglegence.

  • Not only do I pray for the victims in this, I pray for Karen. I pray she gets the help shes been needing for a long time now. The sadness runs deep

    RIP… My Prayers.

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