A 45-year-old man who was killed in Sunday's Highway 140 head-on collision has been identified as Martin Ochoa Ruiz of Merced, according to the county coroner's office.
Merced police Sgt. Jay Struble said a follow-up investigation into the crash has yielded evidence Ruiz may have been driving under the influence when he tried to pass a tour bus on the highway.
Ruiz's Ford Crown Victoria collided head-on with a Chevy Suburban carrying a family of six.
Investigators are awaiting toxicology results from Ruiz's autopsy to confirm whether he was under the influence, which could take two to six weeks. Struble wouldn't elaborate on the evidence that suggests Ruiz was drinking and driving, but he said Ruiz didn't have any prior DUIs.
The crash was reported about 4:47 p.m. after Ruiz had been driving westbound on Highway 140. Witnesses told police Ruiz had been driving behind two tour buses, which had been traveling about 55 mph.
Ruiz had pulled from behind the pair, entering the eastbound lane and passing the first bus, witnesses said. Ruiz pulled back into the westbound lane, positioning his car in between the buses. Struble said Ruiz tailgated the bus in front of him before he pulled into the eastbound lane again and tried to pass it.
When Ruiz entered the eastbound lane, his Crown Victoria crashed head-on with the Chevy Suburban driven by Guillermo Gutierrez Sr. of Managua, Nicaragua. Gutierrez had been traveling with Martha Venegas, 44, and their four children. The family had been visiting California from Nicaragua since July 16, Struble said.
They rented the Suburban and spent their trip sight-seeing, beginning in San Francisco. The day of the crash, they were on their way to visit Yosemite.
Guillermo Gutierrez Sr. was flown to a Modesto hospital, where he remains in critical condition. Venegas, who was in the front passenger seat, was flown to a Modesto trauma center, where she's in stable condition.
The couple's children, Guillermo Gutierrez Jr., 18, Irela Gutierrez, 17, Eduardo Gutierrez, 9, and Fernando Gutierrez, 4, suffered minor injuries. All were taken to local hospitals by ambulance.
The children have been released from the hospital since the crash. Struble said that the Stanislaus County Community Service Agency is assisting the children with housing.
Merced police pulled luggage from the wreckage and returned some of the children's belongings, to ensure they wouldn't be without their clothes or possessions.
Ruiz's death was the eighth fatality reported in the span of one week in Merced County, and the fifth collision-related fatality reported in the city of Merced this year.
City Editor Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or email@example.com.