Six people died in three crashes within 24 hours in Stanislaus County. One man died after a car hit his truck near Knights Ferry on Tuesday afternoon. That followed two single-vehicle crashes that claimed five lives in the Patterson area Monday night.
Unsafe passing led to Tuesday’s crash, which in turn caused a fire and backed up traffic on Highway 108, authorities said.
The crash was reported at 2:34 p.m. near Willms Road, according to the California Highway Patrol. The location is just west of Lovers Leap.
A 22-year-old man driving a Hyundai Accent was eastbound on Highway 108, passing cars at unsafe speeds, CHP Officer Chuck Leon said.
A witness, who had just been passed by the Accent, told officers he saw the car try to pass a Cadillac, crossing double yellow lines on a curve. The car collided head-on with a Ford Ranger driven by an 81-year-old man. Authorities did not release the names of those involved in the crash.
Both vehicles ended up on the westbound shoulder. The Ranger then caught fire.
A trucker driving by stopped and used a fire extinguisher and a pry bar from his truck to pull the driver out of the Ranger. A registered nurse also stopped and performed cardiopulmonary resuscitation, but the man was declared dead, Leon said. The driver of the Accent and a female passenger in his car were taken to Modesto hospitals with serious injuries, as was a passenger in the Ranger, whom Leon described as an older man.
The trucker who pulled the driver from the Ranger suffered burns to his arms. Leon did not have his name but said the man is in his 40s.
The fire from the Ranger spread to a nearby field, where it consumed an acre before it was extinguished.
Samantha Smith was two cars behind the Ranger when the crash occurred. As she ascended a hill heading west toward her home in Modesto, a car coming eastbound flashed his lights at her repeatedly in caution.
She slowed down and, when she reached the top of hill, saw the wreckage below.
Smith said the trucker was with several other men when they pulled the Ranger’s passenger out. The men then used a crowbar to free the trapped driver. Smith stayed and talked to the passenger, whose arms were severely burned, she said.
“By this time all the grass is on fire, it’s gone over the fence,” she said.
Along with the fire extinguisher the truck driver used, a man hauling a horse trailer also had one that he used to try to stop the flames.
Highway 108 was closed in both directions for more than an hour, when officers opened a single lane to one-way traffic. Cars backed up in both directions for several miles.
Patterson victims ID’d
Authorities on Tuesday identified five people who died and one who suffered major injuries in two crashes 2 miles apart Monday.
According to the California Highway Patrol, the first crash was reported at 7:29 p.m. on Marshall Road east of Ward Avenue. Four people in a 2004 Lexus were killed after the car slammed into a pole. The car was speeding east on Marshall when it went over a raised Delta Mendota Canal bridge, the CHP said.
Because of the speed, the car “experienced a vertical weight transfer,” the CHP said in a news release. Officer Eric Parsons said that happens when the weight of the car lifts up with the road, but does not come back down as the road dips, causing the vehicle to lose traction.
The driver, identified as Rafael Solis-Bautista, 23, of Modesto, turned to the left, sending the Lexus into a spin. The car went across the westbound lane and onto the north dirt shoulder, where it hit a large power pole. The impact split the car in half. The back half of the car rotated around the pole and came to rest on its left side.
Solis-Bautista and the front passenger, identified as Jhoani Solis-Benavides, 23, of Patterson, were ejected. Two women were in the back of the car. They were identified as Amairani Montes, 19, of Newman and Alexa Pimentel, 21, of Calexico. The woman on the right side of the back seat was partially ejected; the other woman remained inside the car.
All four occupants of the car were pronounced dead at the scene.
Investigation into the crash’s cause continues, but the CHP said it appears alcohol and speed were factors.
Roughly three hours later, the second fatal crash was reported on Interstate 5 at Oak Flat Road. According to the CHP, that crash was reported at 10:46 p.m.
Jorden Henderson, 21, of Antioch was driving a 1999 Saab north on the freeway. The car apparently was traveling with a flat tire.
Henderson allowed the Saab to turn into the center median. When the car hit the dirt, it overturned several times, ejecting Henderson and a passenger, identified as Robert Young, 20, of Oakland. The driver landed in the fast lane of southbound Interstate 5 and the passenger landed on the right shoulder.
The Saab came to rest on its wheels in the slow lane of the freeway.
The driver was pronounced dead at the scene. Young suffered major injuries and was taken by helicopter to an area hospital. Officers closed Interstate 5 so the helicopter could land.
Authorities said it is not clear what caused the crash, nor whether drugs or alcohol were involved.