Marcy Urrutia usually avoids Highway 99 on her way to work in Merced, but Wednesday she opted to take the freeway.
“I don’t even know why I did that and doing that got me stuck in traffic for three hours,” the Livingston resident said.
Urrutia, 48, was one of many people trapped in traffic on Highway 99 early Wednesday after a tractor-trailer overturned just after 7 a.m. near Atwater, spilling two trailers of grain, said Officer Moises Onsurez of the California Highway Patrol.
The truck driver, 55-year-old Claude Dennis of Exeter, was pulled from the overturned vehicle by passing motorists, authorities said.
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Ambulance crews and firefighters administered first aid until he was flown to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, according to Battalion Chief Jeremy Rahn, Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, Merced County.
“We also worked to contain the diesel fuel spill that occurred at the scene,” Rahn said.
The CHP said Dennis suffered unspecified head injuries, which they described as major. An update on his medical condition was unavailable Wednesday.
Dennis was traveling north on the freeway when his vehicle crossed the center divider, crashed through the median barriers and overturned, completely blocking both southbound traffic lanes and one northbound lane, the CHP said.
Crews eventually removed the vehicle and cleaned up the grain. A northbound traffic lane remained closed as of 5 p.m., but all southbound lanes were reopened about 11 a.m. Traffic remained congested throughout the day and into the evening commute as work crews continued to fix the broken median barriers, authorities said.
Traffic was diverted through Atwater, causing further delays and backups on Santa Fe Drive heading into Merced.
“I just turned off my car and played games on my phone,” Urrutia said. “A lot of people got out of their cars and we all just waited. After a while they let us turn our cars around and I’m glad they did. It was bad.”
Rob Parsons: (209) 385-2482