2 local women die in toll road crash

May 27, 2006|By Dave Brooks

A 78-year-old Costa Mesa woman who caused a fatal car crash Wednesday on the 241 toll road was suffering from the early stages of dementia, her husband said.

Leota Holman was the driver in a fiery head-on collision that killed her and Roberta Ellis, 45, of Newport Beach. Both cars were so badly damaged by fire that rescuers had to use dental records to identify the women.

Holman had been diagnosed with the ailment a few months earlier by doctors and did not normally drive, although physicians had not revoked her driver's license, her husband Bob Holman said. No one knows why she was driving in that area, although her husband said it might have been to visit her son James Cain, 61, who lives nearby. Bob Holman said Cain was not expecting a visit from his mother and was alerted to the accident when he saw a television report.


"When he got over there, the only thing that was left was the trunk of the car, and he knew it was hers," Bob Holman said.

Leota Holman was reportedly driving her 1988 red Cadillac the wrong way in the southbound lanes Wednesday when she collided with Ellis' Jeep Cherokee coming down the steep road about 200 meters past the Windy Ridge Toll Plaza, according to an accident report from the California Highway Patrol.

It was unclear why Leota Holman was driving the wrong way although a toll booth operator had told officers that she had previously given directions to a lost driver that matched Leota Holman's description, but the toll operator was not able to later identify the badly damaged car.

Bob Holman said his wife was born in the border-town of Calexico and grew up outside of El Centro. She attended the University of New Mexico and worked in business administration for several decades before retiring. Bob Holman said his wife was an avid collector of antique dolls and had a collection valued at $250,000.

Roberta Ellis' husband, Dave Ellis, said his wife had spent the day in the area working for her flower business when the accident took place.

"She had to travel a lot in her business and was on the way home and unfortunately she didn't make it home to see us," Dave Ellis said.

Dave Ellis described his wife as a vibrant woman with dozens of friends who enjoyed sports and playing softball. She helped coach sports teams for her three sons, Matt, 27, Sean, 19, and Tyler, 18. Roberta Ellis was born in Long Beach and spent most of her life in Newport Beach.

"She was one of those magnetic people that everyone wanted to be around," Dave Ellis said.

Funeral services for Roberta Ellis are pending. A small private ceremony will be held for Leota Holman.

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