Tonopah, Goldfield communities mourn crash victims


Residents in Tonopah and the Esmeralda County communities of Gold Point and Goldfield are mourning the loss of the three people killed in the head-on collision between a pickup and an SUV along U.S. Highway 95 south of Tonopah in Esmeralda County on Dec. 28.

Prayers also are going out to injured passengers in the pickup truck.

The deceased were identified by the Nevada Highway Patrol as Michael Wayne McKinnis, 47, of Tonopah, the pickup’s driver; Dan Haskon Norcom, 80, of Gold Point, Nevada, the SUV’s driver; and Diane Celestine Atencio, 78, of Gold Point, a retiree and right front-seat passenger in the Mitsubishi.

All three were well-known in their communities.

McKinnis was a former Nye County deputy sheriff, Sheriff Sharon Wehrly confirmed to the Tonopah Times-Bonanza.

In addition to having been a full-time Nye County deputy, McKinnis later had served as a reserve deputy sheriff, Wehrly said.

“He was an excellent deputy, a very nice guy,” Wehrly said. “The department is really, really sad.”

She indicated she had wanted to keep McKinnis with the sheriff’s office in some capacity but that he was heavily involved at the SolarReserve Crescent Dunes solar plant near Tonopah where he was employed at the time of the crash.

The sheriff’s office offered its Honor Guard for his funeral.

McKinnis’ Facebook page listed him as a field technician at the solar plant since May 2015 and a graduate of Tonopah High School. Henderson is listed as his hometown.

Gold Point community

Norcom and Atencio, who were in the SUV, were residents of Gold Point, about 30 southwest miles of Goldfield.

Both Norcom and Atencio had strong ties to Goldfield and were known in Tonopah, where they had shopped, those who knew them said.

“They were not married, but they were significant others to each other,” Gold Point resident Sandy Johnson said.

Johnson knew Norcom and Atencio for at least 25 years or more, including when they all had lived in Goldfield.

“It’s devastating,” Johnson said of their deaths. “It is still hard to comprehend that this has happened.”

Gold Point has only about 15 residents, said Johnson, a 23-year resident of that rural community.

“It’s been tough on everyone out here,” she said. “As far as neighbors, we’re still trying to wrap our heads around this thing.”

“Everyone out here just keeps an eye on everything for everybody, and it’s just hard to understand how this could happen to a couple like that. It’s sad.”

Both Norcom and Atencio were retirees, who also owned property in Goldfield, locals said. Norcom and Atencio had family in different places around Nevada and California and shared a residence in Gold Point, Johnson said.

“I know they have been together for many years,” Johnson said.

Johnson’s home is only about a half-block from where Norcom and Atencio had lived.

“I am used to looking over and seeing (house) lights there, and the last few days have just been real hard,” Johnson said. “To look over and knowing they’re not coming back.”

Goldfield resident and business owner Malek Davarpanah of the Elite Trading Post said knew he McKinnis, Norcom and Atencio as store customers.

“It is so sad,” Davarpanah said. “It is a tragedy.”

Davarpanah recalled that about six weeks ago he had almost bought from Norcom the SUV that ended up in the fatal crash.

“I just saw him a few weeks back,” Davarpanah said.

Contact reporter David Jacobs at djacobs@tonopahtimes.com

AT A GLANCE

■ A funeral service and celebration of life for McKinnis is planned for 11 a.m. Saturday, Jan. 7 in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in Tonopah, followed by a dedication in the Tonopah Cemetery and a reception at the Elks Lodge, organizers reported. As of the morning of Jan. 3, the GoFundMe effort had raised $6,600 by 78 people. A $20,000 goal was listed.

■ Arrangements for Norcom and Atencio were not immediately known.