May 14, 2009

Fatal collision blocks Highway 120 east of Oakdale

The driver killed in a head on collision near Oakdale this morning was so badly burned that investigators cannot tell if the victim was a man or a woman. The accident occurred around 8 a.m. on Highway 120/108, and traffic has been diverted since then. The California Highway Patrol says the road may reopen around 5 p.m.

OAKDALE - A sport utility vehicle and a truck collided head on and burst into flames this morning a few miles east of town on Highway 120/108, killing the SUV driver, the California Highway Patrol said. Both vehicles burst into flames, and the highway was closed for hours.

The driver of a 1992 Isuzu Rodeo was pronounced dead at the scene, said officer John Martinez, a CHP spokesman.

He said officials were trying to determine the driver’s identity. Because the body was badly burned, they could not tell if the driver was a man or a woman.

Michael Holsen, 39, of Modesto, was driving an International truck, hauling vehicle batteries for Interstate Batteries, Martinez said.

He said Holsen suffered minor to moderate injuries in the crash and was taken to a hospital for treatment. There were no other occupants in the vehicles, and no other injuries reported.

The crash occurred shortly before 8 a.m. on the highway, just east of Lancaster Road.

Martinez said the truck hauling batteries was heading east on the highway about 45 to 50 mph, while the SUV was traveling in the opposite direction about 50 to 55 mph. This area of the highway has one lane in each direction.

A witness, who was driving in front of the Isuzu, told CHP officers she saw the SUV weaving across the westbound lane shortly before the crash occurred, Martinez said. The CHP is investigating whether alcohol or drugs was a factor in the crash.

In an area where the highway curves, the SUV drifted into the oncoming lane and hit the truck head on, Martinez said.

A fire, that appeared to have started near the vehicles’ front ends, engulfed the SUV and the truck, he said. Holsen got out of the truck on his own, Martinez said, but the SUV driver did not.

Another witness, Cyndi Ballesteros, said she was driving toward Sonora behind the truck when the SUV crossed over the center line and smashed into the truck.

“The guy in the battery truck got out," Ballesteros said. “We couldn’t get near the car.”

She said the vehicles then became engulfed in flames, and “batteries were exploding.”

Martinez said authorities were concerned sulfuric acid in the batteries that spilled at the crash site would create breathing problems for drivers moving through the area. The CHP closed the highway in both directions.

A hazardous materials team was called to clean up the spill and ensure the area was safe. Martinez said traffic is being detoured and the highway is expected to be closed until 5 p.m.

CHP official talks about crash at the scene

Cell phone video from scene after collision and fire

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