THE BAY AREA QUAKE : 5:04 P.M. : A TIME WHEN LIVES CHANGED : Tales of the Quake: Death, Heroes and Luck : On the Nimitz, a Sudden Stop

Delivery man Gary Watson was running on time and just half an hour or so from the end of another day on his new job.

Watson, 54, was on the Nimitz Freeway in Oakland, driving his Burlington Express truck back to the air freight company's home office in San Leandro. He had a day's load of packages behind him in the truck, mostly wine he had picked up during his regular rounds of the vineyards in the Napa Valley.

Watson, born and reared in Vallejo, now lived in nearby Napa with his wife and four daughters, ages 12 to 24. He was pleased that his delivery job allowed him to get to know some of the local wine makers. His oldest daughter, Kristina, worked at one of the wineries on his route and Watson believed that he, too, was becoming a part of the industry that gave Napa Valley much of its identity.

Only a month before, Watson had retired from the Mare Island Naval Base where he had been a civilian sheet metal worker for nearly 20 years. He liked the new job, being outside and covering a lot of ground, usually with the truck radio tuned to a 1950's music station.

On Tuesday, Watson was on his usual route, south through Oakland to San Leandro on the upper deck of the Nimitz when the unusual happened. The earth shook. The double-deck freeway collapsed. Watson was one of the first to be pulled from the wreckage, but it was already too late.

At her home in Napa, Dorrothy Watson heard nothing from her husband after he didn't arrive home on time. She and her children thought he was caught in traffic. But after hearing that the Nimitz motor way had collapsed, she called the Burlington Express dispatch center in San Leandro and was told that her husband had not turned in his truck. A few hours later, Alameda County authorities called to tell her that Gary Watson was dead.

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