SUBMITTED By NANCY GRAY
NATIONAL PARK SERVICE
Tonya Renee Eichler, 39, from Sevierville, Tenn., was killed the night of Sunday, Jan. 24 by falling trees while traveling in a 2003 Nissan Altima north on Newfound Gap Road in Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Several large trees fell from the west side of the road directly onto the front passenger side of the vehicle just after passing the Chimney Tops Picnic area.
The Nissan was driven by Jody Simonds also of Sevierville. A third occupant, his juvenile daughter, was sitting in the back seat of the car.
The incident was reported by a Park employee around 8:06 p.m. The vehicle was severely damaged from the fallen trees causing the roof to collapse on the passenger side. Both Mr. Simonds and his daughter were able to climb out of a window. Before rescue personnel arrived on scene, a motorist with a chain saw stopped to assist and began cutting the trees in an attempt to free Eichler.
Gatlinburg paramedics assisted Park Rangers in employing the jaws-of-life to extricate the victim from the vehicle. The victim was pronounced dead at the scene.
The Simonds’ were transported by Gatlinburg ambulance to The University of Tennessee Medical Center where they were treated and released. The victim was also transported by a second Gatlinburg ambulance to Ft. Sanders Sevier Medical Center.
The high winds reported earlier in the day gusting at 70 mph had diminished significantly, but by the time of the accident the soils were highly saturated from rainfall and snow melt.