Palo Alto family dies in crash in British Columbia

Four people killed when their camper collides with tractor trailer Friday

Update: Memorial celebration to be held Sunday (July 31).

A Palo Alto family of four was killed on a Canadian highway Friday afternoon when their camper van collided head-on with a tractor trailer in Kootenay National Park in British Columbia.

Family members identified the victims as Robert Howard, 49, his wife Ana-Maria Dias, 50, and their daughters Samantha, 11, and Veronica, 9.

A memorial celebration for the family will take place on Sunday (July 31) at 3 p.m. at El Carmelo Elementary School, 3024 Bryant St., Palo Alto, according to relatives. Volunteers are needed and can sign up at

The family was driving northbound in a Dodge camper when an oncoming tractor-trailer crossed the center divider and collided with the Dodge, pinning it against a barrier and causing both vehicles to ignite, CBC News reported.

Police said the driver of the Dodge tried to swerve but was unable to avoid the collision, according to news reports. Witnesses were able to help the driver of the tractor-trailer out of his vehicle but could not help the family in the van because the flames were too intense, CBC reported.

Photos published by the Columbia Valley Pioneer Newspaper showed the collision occurred on a curved and rain-slickened mountain road. The traffic lanes are delineated by painted lines but no road fixtures.

Palo Alto police would not comment on the collision and referred inquiries to the Vancouver authorities. Calls to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the Vancouver Police Department were not returned Saturday.

According to the CBC, the driver of the truck was detained at the scene and later released without charges.

News of the crash quickly rippled through Palo Alto's community Saturday afternoon, with dozens of shocked residents offering their condolences and recollections of the family on a website set up by Howard's family.

Friends and family described Robert Howard and Ana-Maria Dias as a creative, bright and hospitable couple who were deeply involved in their community and who loved to explore the outdoors. Their daughters Samantha and Veronica went to school at JLS Middle School and El Carmelo Elementary School, respectively.

The family went camping every year, said Cindy Howard, Robert's sister-in-law.

"Any time they had a three-day weekend, they went away with the girls," Cindy Howard said. "They liked discovering the wilderness, finding a forest or a service land where they can go and explore that place completely."

She described Robert Howard as the "consummate engineer." According to a biography the family published on the website, Robert Howard graduated from Stanford University with an engineering degree and worked for Apple Computer before joining Lunar, a San Francisco-based company, in 1996.

Cindy Howard called him "one of the most creative people I've ever known." She said he enjoyed tinkering and fixing objects and making sure everything always ran absolutely perfectly.

Cindy Howard told Palo Alto Online that Robert's projects included completely rebuilding his Suzuki Jeep. She described him as "amusing and entertaining." He also loved to take camping trips

with the whole extended family, according to the family's website. These included trips to Cambria and Death Valley.

Ana-Maria Dias shared her husband's love for the outdoors. A well-known volunteer in the Palo Alto school community, Dias moved to the United States from Angola during the late 1970s, according to the family's website. She volunteered at JLS and El Carmelo, where she helped organize fundraising events. Numerous friends and fellow volunteers praised Dias' positive energy, creativity and dedication to education on the family's website.

"Ana-Maria's positive attitude, energy, sense of inquiry and dedication were amazing and inspiring to witness," Kathy Schroeder, a longtime school volunteer, wrote on the site.

Rebecca Davis also commented and called Dias "one of the most creative, upbeat, positive people I have ever had the pleasure to know; her energy and ideas were endless."

"We knew this wonderful family years ago through PreSchool family and cherished their presence in the Palo Alto Community." wrote Lucy Filppu, a teacher at Palo Alto High School. "Our hearts are sick with this tragedy."

Cindy Howard said she particularly recalls Dias' hospitality, energy and penchant for bringing people together for a good cause. When Samantha started getting interested in soccer, Dias helped organize an informal workshop for her daughter and other children, Howard said. She said Dias always cared deeply about her community and described Dias as extremely "gracious and hospitable."

"One of the first things I remember about Ana-Maria was when I met her, she and her two sisters would come over and when they left the house would look better than it did before," Cindy Howard said.

Robert Howard's and Ana-Maria Dias' two daughters appeared to have shared their parents' passion for exploration. Samantha, who was preparing to start seventh grade at JLS, was very comfortable meeting new people and trying out new activities, Cindy Howard said. She enjoyed drama and volleyball, and recently competed in a volleyball tournament.

"She was very outgoing," Cindy Howard said. "When I spoke to the principal at JLS, she said everyone knows Samantha. She just connected with lots of different people."

She described Samantha's younger sister, Veronica, as a little quieter than Samantha, as well as "very creative and artistic." But Veronica was also beginning to pick up her father's enthusiasm for off-road motorcycling. Robert Howard's sister, Kim Saxe, recalled on the family's website one of her final conversations with Robert. He reportedly told her "how excited he was that Nica expressed an interest in trying off-road motorcycling."

"Within the last month he took her to try, out to Hollister State Vehicular Recreation Area, and she absolutely loved it," the website states. "Howard was over the moon."

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Like this comment
Posted by maurice
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jul 23, 2011 at 9:31 pm

Very sad! May they rest in peace.

Like this comment
Posted by YSK
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jul 23, 2011 at 9:33 pm

So devastating....our thoughts and prayers to everyone affected by this terrible loss!

Like this comment
Posted by Warren
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2011 at 10:16 pm

I'm certain I can speak for the rest of British Columbia when I say how terribly sorry I am for the loss of this special family to your community. As visitors, they were in our care and we failed to return them safely to you. My most heart felt condolences to all who knew them.

Like this comment
Posted by PE
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jul 23, 2011 at 10:25 pm

My deepest sympathy to their family and friends. This is such a terrible and heartbreaking loss.

Like this comment
Posted by Paul P.
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2011 at 11:16 pm

I worked with Robert at Apple and will always remember him for his friendliness, his stamina and his talents. My sympathy goes to the family.

Like this comment
Posted by Cindy
a resident of another community
on Jul 23, 2011 at 11:18 pm

My heartfelt sympathy to the family, friends and community among which this beautiful family flourished. My thoughts and prayers go out to you from Vancouver, Canada.

Like this comment
Posted by Tomas
a resident of Addison School
on Jul 23, 2011 at 11:29 pm

We talked about a project before he went on his vacation. How sad for their life shorten and my dear friends lost. My heart felt condolences to his family and friends..

Like this comment
Posted by So Sorry
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 23, 2011 at 11:55 pm

As a Canadian living in Palo Alto, please let me express my sincerest sympathies to the entire Howard/Dias family. I know that my fellow Canadians are also deeply affected by this terrible tragedy and feel your loss.

Like this comment
Posted by Annie J
a resident of Midtown
on Jul 24, 2011 at 12:13 am

That was so nice what Warren said. As someone who will miss all that Ana-Maria did and how nice it always was to see her, I am forever changed. So sorry for the whole family and community.

Like this comment
Posted by Continental friend
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jul 24, 2011 at 12:42 am

Thank you, Canadian neighbors, for the kind words you have left here. We are lucky to have you up north.

So sad to lose this vibrant family. May those who love them find peace.

Like this comment
Posted by TM
a resident of Barron Park
on Jul 24, 2011 at 12:45 am

Very sad situation. Maybe I'm missing something, but why would the Weekly's reporters call the Palo Alto police about this?

Like this comment
Posted by Randy
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2011 at 4:02 am

This is so tragic and heartbreaking. I'm at a loss for words. My sincerest condolences to the family and friends. May their loved ones rest in peace.

Like this comment
Posted by Bob
a resident of Community Center
on Jul 24, 2011 at 4:56 am

To TM:
Because the Canadian RMPD only had an auto license plate to go on - and needed information re: the family asap. Otherwise, the RMPD didn't know who they were. And the Weekly went to the only source it could go to as the PAPD searched for family/friends here.

Like this comment
Posted by Richard
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2011 at 6:46 am

As a resident of British Columbia I join the rest of Canada in expressing our profound sympathy to family and friends. Although it will not bring this lovely family back, please be assured that this will be investigated thoroughly by highly skilled and dedicated collision professionals and charges laid after all possibilities as to cause are examined.

Like this comment
Posted by Bill
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2011 at 9:09 am

As a Canadian, it drives me mad that our highway system is so ancient compared the the US Interstate systems that was in place 60 years ago. I have to drive on 9 miles of gravel road to visit my parents' ranch. It would only be one mile, but somebody (one person) objected to the plan to pave a stretch of road and so they didn't. And Calgary (1 million people) can't have a ring road because a few hundred people on the neighboring Native reserve don't want it.

Like this comment
Posted by Alphonso
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jul 24, 2011 at 9:30 am

Double trailors may be cost effective but they do not belong on wet mountain roads - hard to control if the conditions include curves, steep hills, water on road and long tiring drives.

Like this comment
Posted by CondolentCanuck
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2011 at 10:14 am

This is truly a sad and senseless tragedy, and one that could have been avoided if only Canadian government officials would get down to the costly but ultimately unavoidable business of twinning/dividing all the main highways in British Columbia. As it is, thousands of miles of major roadways in that province -- including most of the enormously popular and heavily used Trans-Canada -- are no more than two lanes (one in each direction), with the occasional stretch of third lane for passsing. In these sections there are no barriers whatsoever to separate the opposing flows and shield vehicles and their occupants from oncoming traffic that may go astray due to weather conditions, mechanical failure, or driver error. American tourists are a vital consitituent of the Canadian economy, so YOU can help make a real difference and prevent more senseless losses by e-mailing or writing the Prime Minister of Canada, Stephen Harper, or the Premier of British Columbia, Christy Clark (just google their names for contact info) and letting them know that you are appalled by the state of BC's highway system, and will not be vacationing in Canada unless and until their respective governments get down to business and complete a comprehensive twinning of the major roadways so that you and your families will enjoy a more reasonable level of safety on Canada's roads. Thank you, and God bless the family and those they've left behind to mourn.

Like this comment
Posted by Jamie Gray
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2011 at 12:01 pm

Ugh, this is so tragic - the Howards were great people and great friends, who I haven't stayed in touch with nearly enough for the last few years. A bunch of us used to go camping in the desert every year, with their beloved little camper Edwina as the "mother ship". Robert had the quickest wit of anyone I've ever known, and Ana-Maria was so sweet and giving. I haven't seen the girls for a couple years, but Ana-Maria and Robert were doing a great job of raising smart and interesting kids. They'll all be missed.

Thanks, Gennady and Tyler, for a nice article that captures them well. Small correction: Robert's company was Lunar Design(

Like this comment
Posted by Brian
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm

So sad :'(

Its absolutely amazing how one minute your enjoying your life and the next minute its all over. Any one event could have changed this. Spending a couple minutes at a gas station or stopping some place for a washroom break. For them to be at that spot at that second to be hit its just mind numbing.

I hope it was a mechanical failure and not something as senseless as a driver falling asleep.

From BC

Like this comment
Posted by Sonja
a resident of El Carmelo School
on Jul 24, 2011 at 5:47 pm

You never said "I'm leaving"
You never said goodbye
You were gone before I knew it,
And only God knew why

A million times I needed you,
A million times I cried
If Love alone could have saved you,
You never would have died

In Life I loved you dearly
In death I love you still
In my heart you hold a place,
That no one could ever fill

Like this comment
Posted by Jamie Gray
a resident of another community
on Jul 24, 2011 at 6:22 pm

Another correction, more important: please add a "www" to the URL - Web Link . I'll report this to the site administrator, but at the moment you need the "www" to get in.

Like this comment
Posted by Gennady Sheyner
Palo Alto Weekly staff writer
on Jul 24, 2011 at 6:35 pm

Gennady Sheyner is a registered user.

Thank you, Jamie. It's been corrected.

Thanks again,


Like this comment
Posted by Lana
a resident of another community
on Jul 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm

This is such a horrible tragedy! It is very hard to accept the reality that this wonderful family has perished...
Ana Maria and I met at Philips Semiconductors (Sunnyvale) in mid 90's and became friends very fast. Ana Maria was a Sales Engineer at that time and one of the best I knew. I have always been very impressed by Ana Maria's intelligence, strong convictions and independent thinking, her practical and creative ways. She cherished a deep love for her family and was a very dedicated parent and wife.
My deepest condolences go to Howard and Dias families, Samantha's and Veronica's classmates, all their friends, colleagues and neighbors.
So, so sad....

Like this comment
Posted by Anon
a resident of another community
on Jul 26, 2011 at 11:46 am

The loss of this beautiful family is a devasting loss to our community. Although I did know them, I am so saddened. My deepest condolences to everyone who knew them.

Like this comment
Posted by Peter
a resident of another community
on Jul 26, 2011 at 1:25 pm

This accident has deeply saddened many, many people in Western Canada. We take pride in our abilty to safely host and entertain our American friends and neighbors who visit us.
I was on the highway that day, and wondered who was involved in this horrific accident. When the news came out it was a family of four, with young children, it hit all of us very hard.
Our sincere condolences go out to the good people of Palo Alto, for this devasting loss. We are thinking of you and wish we could do something, anything to help.
As I drive this highway often, my family and I will place flowers at the sad location of the accident. For what it is worth, the vista's and scenery in this valley are amazing. The Howard Dias family went to heaven from a beautiful place, now a sad place for all of us.
We will remember them......

Like this comment
Posted by Dave
a resident of Mountain View
on Jul 26, 2011 at 4:08 pm

See this piece of video Web Link which shows the area where this horrific accident occurred. I think at 01:52 (travelling north to south), and 02:52? (travelling south to north) in the video is the location.

Like this comment
Posted by Ryan
a resident of another community
on Jul 26, 2011 at 5:24 pm

I drive that road regularly and have seen many lives lost due to its high mountain design. I drove past the site yesterday and it brought tears to my eyes. I am so sorry to everyone for their loss. Revelation 21:4 holds much comfort to a future when we can be reunited with our loved ones.

Like this comment
Posted by Bruce
a resident of another community
on Jul 26, 2011 at 10:09 pm

As a resident of Vancouver I have been affected by this tragic story. I would like to express my deepest sympathy to the family and friends of the Howard Diaz family.

Like this comment
Posted by Compassion for us all...
a resident of Green Acres
on Jul 27, 2011 at 1:45 am

Their deaths have brought more than just thoughts to the forefront~ May we all stop in silence and reflect within ourselves on how wonderful life is and what we can do to make each day better than the day before.
So sorry for the early loss of this wonderfully close family.
Many of us do not have close family~ to those of you, be sure to keep smiling as that is like looking in the mirror~ those around you will return the gesture, even if it takes a few reflections....keep the faith.............

Like this comment
Posted by kristi
a resident of Portola Valley
on Apr 30, 2014 at 4:52 pm

Email to make the BC roads as safe as possible for everyone! So sorry for this family loss! Lets create positive change to the roads.

Email Address

Mailing Address
The Honourable Christy Clark
Premier of British Columbia
Box 9041
Victoria, BC

Web Link
Office of the Prime Minister
80 Wellington Street
Ottawa, ON K1A 0A2

Fax: 613-941-6900

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