Three people killed in Merced County crash
The Merced County Coroner’s Office on Thursday identified two people who died in a crash on Highway 99 near Le Grand.
The driver of a Chevy Silverado was identified as Mark Wilmer, 53, of Modesto. His passenger was Maburn Rodriguez, 52, also from Modesto.
Wilmer was southbound on Highway 99 about 7:30 a.m. Wednesday when, for an unknown reason, his Chevy Silverado crossed the center median and struck a black Ford SUV in the northbound lane head-on. Wilmer and Rodriguez died at the scene.
The collision also killed 23-year-old Travis Lindsay of Chowchilla, the driver and sole occupant of the SUV.
California Highway Patrol is investigating the crash, a process that could take up to a year, Officer Eric Zuniga said.
“We know the gentleman crossed the center divide, but we don’t know why he crossed over,” Zuniga said.
It’s unknown if drugs or alcohol played a factor in the crash, he said. Autopsy results are expected next week and toxicology results could take about three months.
Rodrigo Espinoza, Merced County Supervisor for District 1, said the sooner guardrails are erected on Highway 99 medians, the better.
“The less fatalities anywhere, the better,” said Espinoza, whose district stretches from Le Grand to Livingston.
Espinoza pointed to a recently completed guardrail on Highway 99 in Livingston that was constructed by the California Department of Transportation following multiple fatal crashes and several minor crashes in the area.
“It’s good they’re doing it,” Espinoza said.
Last year, an analysis by ValuePenguin rated Highway 99 in the Central Valley the deadliest in the country.
More than 60 fatal collisions were reported per 100 miles in a five-year span on the stretch of highway that runs through Merced, Modesto, Stockton and Sacramento.
Greg Lawson, a spokesman with Caltrans District 10, said after each fatal crash a team of traffic safety engineers evaluates the stretch of road to determine if additional actions are needed to increase safety.
Such data warranted the 2016 guardrail project in Livingston, he said.
No crashes in the last five years have involved cross over of the median at the location of Wednesday’s crash, Lawson said.
Lawson said many factors contribute to unsafe roads, including increased traffic and driver awareness. However, traffic in the Le Grand area on Highway 99 has shrunk since the Arboleda widening project was completed in 2015, he said.
“Every year, we’re always evaluating and looking at what we can do to increase safety. Safety is the No. 1 priority,” Lawson said.
Brianna Calix: 209-385-2477