A young Eagle River boy died on the Sterling Highway Thursday afternoon, after a large rock fell from another vehicle and struck him in a car.

Alaska State Troopers said the incident in which 8-year-old Noah Schwebach was killed, initially reported as an injury crash, occurred just before 1:30 p.m. near Mile 58 of the Sterling.

Schwebach was the middle rear passenger in a Volkswagen GTI Hatchback carrying five people and headed north, troopers wrote in an online dispatch, when “a volleyball-sized rock fell off the back of a rock truck traveling southbound.”

“The rock went through the windshield of the Hatchback and struck [Schwebach],” troopers wrote. “After striking the passenger, the rock bounced out of the Hatchback.”

Witness Dianna VanNuck took this photo of the rock she believes killed an 8-year-old boy on the Sterling Highway on July 19, 2018. (Credit: Dianna VanNuck)

Responders tried to assist Schwebach, troopers said, but he died at the scene. Nobody else was injured.

“The incident occurred in a construction zone that has many large vehicles moving in and out of the area,” troopers wrote. “The vehicle the rock fell off of has not been positively identified.”

Troopers spokeswoman Megan Peters had no further details available on the crash early Thursday evening.

Shannon McCarthy, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Transportation and Public Facilities, said there wasn't any immediate word on whether the truck the deadly rock fell from was a state vehicle or one operated by a contractor.

Two commercial vehicle enforcement officers already on the Sterling for an earlier crash Thursday were headed north to the incident that killed Schwebach.

The highway has been the site of several projects this year, including rehabilitation work and the installation of wildlife culverts taking place between Mile 58 and Mile 79.

According to McCarthy, traffic had been flowing normally near Mile 58 at the time of the fatal rock fall. No daytime flaggers or lane closures have been allowed in that corridor, she said, in an effort to prevent congestion amid heavy traffic to and from Kenai River dipnetting sites.

Kelly Roy, who has worked to strengthen Alaska’s laws on unsecured vehicle loads, said Thursday that she was “really saddened” to hear of Schwebach's death, as details continue to emerge on what happened.

“I wonder if that that truck didn’t have its load secured or covered,” Roy said. “It’s really sad that Alaskans are affected by something so simple.”

Roy became an activist on Feb. 16, 2015, during her commute from Palmer into Anchorage on the Glenn Highway. In a March letter to state lawmakers, she said an accident caused a residential trash can to fall from a truck and strike her sedan.

A photo of damage to Kelly Roy's car after the Feb. 16, 2015 Glenn Highway crash in which she brain injuries after an unsecured load struck her windshield. (Credit: Courtesy Kelly Roy via Alaska State Legislature)

“The next thing I remember is being in the emergency room and a police officer trying to ask me questions,” Roy wrote. “I was told that my car rolled four times and that the fire department had to cut me out of my vehicle because I was trapped.”

On Thursday, Roy said by phone, she suffered a brain injury in the crash with a survival rate of 30 percent.

“I was hurt pretty bad – I had broken bones, and the most serious of my injuries was brain bleeding and a bone fracture,” Roy said. “It kind of changed my whole life; I spent years in rehab trying to learn how to do basic things in my life.”

Investigators never learned whose vehicle the trash can had fallen from, Roy said.

“I found out that the driver that day, they actually didn’t stop,” Roy said. “The police said there wasn’t much they could do, because the maximum penalty for nearly killing me was a $300 littering fine.”

In the years after the crash, Roy said she asked lawmakers to strengthen penalties for unsecured loads. Language doing so from the bill she championed, HB 259, was passed as part of transportation bill SB 199 on May 15.

“If a person acts out of criminal negligence and either hurts someone or kills someone it is a class A misdemeanor,” Roy said. If a person acts out of personal negligence and damages something, it is a class B misdemeanor.”

That bill, however, hasn’t yet been sent to Gov. Bill Walker for his signature.

In the meantime, Roy said she’s still concerned about driving on Alaska’s roads, saying Anchorage Landfill staff told her they cited more than 1,000 visitors last year for unsecured loads in their vehicles.

“I don’t feel very safe at all,” Roy said. “I see unsecured loads every day, knowing those loads are unsecured and they could kill someone or damage a car.”

Scott Jensen contributed information to this story.

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