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Wrong-way driver dies, 7 injured in crash on Highway 99

A wrong-way driver died Saturday afternoon and seven others were hurt in a four-vehicle accident on Highway 99 north of the West 16th Street overcrossing in Merced.

California Highway Patrol Officer Luis Lara identified Earl Gimlin, 73, of Turlock, as the man killed in the 3 p.m. wreck when he was driving northbound in the southbound lanes of the highway and his 1994 Ford truck struck the three other vehicles. Gimlin was pronounced dead at the Community Campus of Mercy Medical Center Merced.

CHP officers said Gimlin's truck hit a 1996 Chevy van driven by Juan Martinez, 21, of Fresno, a 1998 Chevrolet driven by Raul Renteria, of Woodlake, and a 2008 Mazda driven by Marcell J. Cambern, 44, of Madera.

Cambern and Martinez were taken to Mercy Medical Center for treatment of major and moderate injuries respectively. Renteria was not injured.

Adrian Hernandez, 19, of Fresno, a passenger in Renteria's vehicle, was taken to Mercy Medical Center for treatment of moderate injuries. Anastascio Torres, 24, of Fresno, a passenger in the Martinez vehicle, also was taken to Mercy for treatment of moderate injuries.

Aurellano Escamilla, 37, Francisco Hernandez, 24, and Augustine Vasquez, 25, all of Fresno and passengers in the Martinez van, also were hurt in the wreck, according to CHP reports.

It's unknown how fast Gimlin was traveling or why he was going the wrong way on the highway. All three of the oncoming vehicles were southbound on the highway at 65 mph. The Cambern vehicle overturned and came to rest on its top after the impact.

CHP reports indicate the right side of the Gimlin truck hit the right side of Renteria's car, then hit the front of the Martinez van and finally the right side of the Cambern vehicle.

Drunken driving does not appear to be a factor in the accident, which remains under investigation.

Saturday's collision was the third wrong-way accident on Highway 99 in the Merced area this year.

A wrong-way driver hit five cars on the highway Feb. 8 before he was Tasered by officers. The man, Richard Earl Abston, 53, of Merced died that morning at the Community Campus of Mercy Medical Center Merced.

Amelia Coronado, 40, of Merced was seriously injured Feb. 26 when her pickup was struck head-on on southbound Highway 99 north of Franklin Road by a van driven by Patricia York, 58, of Gustine.

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