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CHP: Driver who ran away from 99 rollover comes forward

A Modesto man turned himself in to the California Highway Patrol on Wednesday morning, saying he caused a three-vehicle rollover accident Monday evening on Highway 99 that sent two people to the hospital with minor injuries and snarled rush-hour traffic, authorities reported.

The CHP did not arrest him, CHP Sgt. Ted Melden said, because officers still are investigating the accident.

"We need to make sure it's ironclad," he said.

Ronald Smalling, 29, surrendered to the CHP on Wednesday morning, Melden said. According to Melden, Smalling made a statement that he ran away after the accident and told his wife his car had been stolen from a market in Modesto. The couple reported the theft to the Modesto Police Department.

Tuesday, Melden said, Smalling had "a change of heart" and called police to tell them the car had not been stolen.

Wednesday morning, Smalling's mother-in-law saw an item in The Bee saying officers were looking for the driver in the Highway 99 crash. The woman told Smalling to "get over to the Highway Patrol," he told the CHP.

"And his wife made him come," Melden said.

DA will decide on charges

Officers had been looking for the driver of a Saturn that was heading north in the fast lane of Highway 99 between G Street and Sierra Drive about 6 p.m. when the driver lost control, changed lanes and hit a van in the center lane. The van spun out, hit the center divider guardrail, then spun back and hit a pickup towing a travel trailer in the slow lane.

The Saturn also rolled over, but no one could find the car's driver after the crash.

The car was registered to Smalling, but Melden said there are several other elements investigators need to firm up before turning the case over to the district attorney's office, which will decide whether to file felony hit-and-run charges.

Bee staff writer Emilie Raguso can be reached at eraguso@modbee.com or 578-2235.

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