Atwater man dies in accident after car goes in canal

WINTON -- An Atwater man died Wednesday morning after his car went into an irrigation canal on Shaffer Road near Winton, the California Highway Patrol reported.

The crash happened around 5:45 a.m. after the 68-year-old man, whose name hasn't been released pending notification of next-of-kin, was driving a 2005 Chevrolet Colorado northbound about 60-65 mph on Shaffer Road, north of Palm Avenue, according to Officer John Patterson, CHP spokesman.

Meanwhile, Francisco Ochoa, 40, of Atwater, was driving a 1990 International flat-bed truck and towing a trailer northbound on Shaffer Road in front of the Chevrolet at about 50-55 mph.

The man in the Chevrolet drove into the southbound lane of Shaffer Road to pass the big rig. Other cars were traveling south on Shaffer Road, approaching the Chevrolet. The Chevrolet's driver changed lanes back into the northbound lane, where the Chevy's right rear side struck the left front of the International, Patterson said.

The Chevrolet spun in a clockwise direction onto a canal bank, hit the concrete canal's wall and went into the canal, becoming submerged.

Ochoa moved his rig onto the east shoulder of the road after the crash. Two people in a car passing by the accident stopped, entered the canal and got the driver out of the Chevrolet. They moved him onto the canal bank as first responders were arriving on the scene, Patterson said.

The Chevrolet's driver received major injuries and was flown to Memorial Medical Center in Modesto, where he was pronounced dead.

It's unknown whether the Chevrolet's driver was wearing a seat belt. The Merced County Sheriff's Department dive team entered the canal and confirmed there was no one else in the Chevrolet.

Patterson said the accident remains under investigation, and it's unknown whether DUI was a factor.

Reporter Victor A. Patton can be reached at (209) 385-2431 or vpatton@mercedsun-star.com.