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300 lose power when big rig wrecks

A truck wreck, snapped power pole, closed highway, spilled oranges and residents without electricity were all elements of a big rig accident Tuesday night on Highway 59 south of Merced.

Truck driver Jared Ross Russell, 26, of Fresno was unhurt in the 10 p.m. accident near 1244 S. Highway 59. The front of the diesel truck-tractor owned by James Transport of Fresno was demolished and the 53-foot trailer lay on its right side, its end peeled open by the impact.

Because of power lines draped over the cab of his rig, Russell sat in the truck for more than an hour until Pacific Gas and Electric Co. workers deemed it was safe for him to leave. Highway 59 between Vassar and Mission avenues was closed until about 1:18 p.m. Wednesday while the broken transformer and its lines were de-energized and replaced.

Capt. Jeff Heyer of the Merced County Fire Department was one of the first on the scene of the single-vehicle accident. He noticed the 70,000-volt and 12,000-volt power lines were stressed by the broken power pole and had the road closed off to traffic from both directions.

California Highway Patrol Officer Jeremy Carabajal said Russell's northbound rig drifted to the right shoulder of the two-lane highway. Russell tried to correct the errant truck-trailer but it went off the edge of the road and overturned, coming to rest in the front yard of several residences, which appeared to be unoccupied at the time.

Russell's rig was full of oranges bound from Fresno to Washington. CHP Officer Shane Ferriera said a crew managed to transfer the spilled oranges to another rig. Russell told officers he was having trouble with the trailer tracking properly just before it went off the road.

Luckily, visibility wasn't seriously impaired by fog and there were no other incidents or accidents related to the truck wreck, Ferriera said.

Heyer and other county firefighters remained on the scene until 3 a.m. Carabajal and Heyer said traffic along Highway 59 was light. Detours were in place while cleanup was under way.

PG&E spokeswoman Nicole Tam of Stockton said 316 utility customers were without power from about 12:30 a.m. to 1 a.m. while power was rerouted. Another five customers were without power until 7:15 a.m. Wednesday.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at 209 385-2485 or