FRESNO -- A 61-year-old man was arrested Saturday on a misdemeanor drunken driving charge after two people were killed in a massive morning pileup in dense fog that involved more than 100 cars and trucks, the California Highway Patrol said.
Eighteen big rigs were involved in the pileup on Highway 99 just south of Fresno as patches of dense fog obscured visibility on the heavily traveled roadway, CHP officials said.
CHP officer Kirk Arnold would not identify the man who is being held in Fresno County jail.
"He has not been said to have been the cause of (the crash), he is just a person who was involved in the collision who was taken in for DUI," Arnold said.
The CHP was investigating the crash Saturday evening.
Arnold said felony charges would be filed against the man if he is found to have been responsible for the pileup.
Officials identified one of the victims as Travis Rogers, 26. A 5-year-old also died but has not been identified, Arnold said. The two victims were traveling in separate vehicles when the chain-reaction collisions occurred about 7:45 a.m.
CHP officer Paul Solorzano Jr. described the scene as "something out of a movie, walking up and seeing all the cars mangled and crushed."
Officials at the scene said 41 people suffered minor to critical injuries, and 39 of them were taken to hospitals in Fresno and Clovis.
The highway's northbound lanes around Clovis Avenue were shut down indefinitely as accident investigators worked. Traffic backed up for miles south of the wreckage. Southbound lanes remained open.
Officials reopened the highway's northbound lanes about 9:30 p.m.
Two of the big rigs leaked 90 gallons of diesel fuel onto the highway when their fuel tanks ruptured, but the diesel was contained. No hazardous materials were spilled, CHP officials said.
'Impossible not to get hit'
Hours after the accident, the highway was littered with smashed cars and trucks, broken glass, auto parts and blood. A big rig carrying stacked crates of live turkeys was stranded in the middle of the highway.
Crash victims gathered on the highway shoulder near the wreckage, waiting to be interviewed by investigators.
Cindy Ramirez, 21, of Selma, said her purple Mazda pickup was rear-ended as she was driving to her job washing windows in Shaver Lake.
"Everybody was trying to miss everybody, but it was impossible not to get hit," Ramirez said. "I'm fine physically, but I keep thinking about all of the things that could have happened."
Omar Macias, 33, was hauling asphalt from Bakersfield to Elk Grove when his truck was caught in the pileup.
"I got out to check on people at first, and then I heard more crashes around me, so I got right back in," said Macias, of Bakersfield. "I feel OK, but I don't know what OK means right now. People got hurt."
As investigators interviewed dazed drivers, crews began sprinkling sand on the highway and sweeping up shattered glass.
Thick seasonal fog known as "tule fog" typically occurs in Central California in the late fall and winter. Two people died along a nearby stretch of fog-blanketed Highway 99 in an 87-vehicle pileup in 2002, and another section of the roadway several miles south was the scene of a 74-vehicle crash that left two dead nearly a decade ago.
"There was probably two-foot visibility in the fog when I got here. It was really bad," said Mike Bowman, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "It looked like chaos. Cars were backed up on top of each other."
Micky Padilla of Porterville was driving with his family to a baptism when they heard the sound of metal screeching. He struggled to brake and slammed into a Nissan Maxima.
Padilla ran out and found a man bleeding in a white pickup. The man was breathing minutes later when firefighters arrived, but died on the highway, Padilla said.
"It was just bang, bang all around us," Padilla said, shaking his head as he stood next to a puddle of blood on the blacktop. "I can't believe I still have my wife and my kids. Someone was looking out for us."
Driver heard the crashes
Tom Jackson, 59, said he and his wife, Mildred, were on their way to Fresno from Hanford. A teacher's aide, Mildred, 53, was going to a training seminar. They got in their car at 7 a.m. to have plenty of time to reach their destination at 8:30.
Jackson said that once they drove onto Highway 99 at Fowler Avenue, the visibility dropped to 50-100 feet. They slowed to 50 mph and stayed in the slow lane. Just north of Clovis Avenue, he said, they saw vehicles stopped or stopping. He slowed again. That's when he heard crashes to the left of them and behind them. They managed to pull off the road and not get hit. Jackson saw another driver in a van rear-ended and taken away in an ambulance.
By 12:30 p.m., the couple was still waiting for permission to leave the accident scene.
"All we want to do is get off 99 and go home," said a weary Jackson.
Fresno Bee staff writer Felicia Matlosz and Associated Press writers Marcus Wohlsen and Jason Dearen contributed to this report.