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Woman injured in accident caused by suicidal driver dies

By JAMIE OPPENHEIM

joppenheim@mercedsun-star.com

The 53-year-old female driver critically injured in last week's fatal three-car suicide accident died from her injuries on Sunday.

The Oct. 19 collision involved a head-on crash between a Nissan pickup truck and a big rig on Highway 140 west of Hull Road. Yolanda Charlton of Merced was driving a 2002 Ford Taurus westbound on Highway 140 at an unknown distance behind the pickup and crashed into the big rig.

Suicide was the cause of the accident, according to Merced County sheriff's deputies.

The driver of the pickup, 40-year-old Jason Andrew Shetler of Atwater, took his own life by swerving into oncoming traffic and hitting the big rig head-on. He was pronounced dead at the scene, and detectives found a suicide note in the wreckage, apologizing to friends and family, according to deputies.

Before the crash, 40-year-old Arestides Fontes of Merced was driving the big rig and pulling a double trailer eastbound on Highway 140 at about 53 to 55 mph. Shetler turned abruptly into the eastbound lane into the path of the big rig. The big rig and the Nissan collided head-on.

Shetler was ejected, his car overturning onto the east shoulder and coming to a rest in an irrigation canal.

The big rig skidded and overturned onto its right side across both lanes of Highway 140. While the big rig was sliding across the highway, the Taurus driven by Charlton crashed into the front of the big rig. The Taurus came to a rest on the east shoulder of Highway 140, and Charlton was taken to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto.

Fontes suffered minor injuries.

Charlton worked for the the Merced County Office of Education for 15 years as a a bilingual instructional aide in special education and did frequent home visits. At the time of the accident, Charlton was headed to a student's home in Gustine, according to Nathan Quevedo, spokesman for MCOE.

Charlton was married for 32 years to her husband Clarence, according to Kelly Charlton, Yolanda Charlton's daughter-in-law. Yolanda loved the outdoors and to sight-see. She wasn't wealthy, but was always generous with her money, Kelly added.

Susan Thomas, coordinator for early childhood special education with MCOE, said Charlton was well loved by the staff. She worked with many families whose infants and toddlers have to deal with disabilities. "Her whole life was a gift to the community," she said. "We are all grieving her loss."

An account to pay for Charlton's funeral costs has been set up by Charlton's family. The account is at Travis Credit Union under Charlton's name. Checks made payable to Charlton's name can be sent to either Travis Credit Union, P.O. Box 2069, Vacaville, CA 95696, or they can be taken to the Travis Credit Union at 1194 W. Olive in Merced.

Reporter Jamie Oppenheim cab be reached at (209)385-2407 or joppenheim@mercedsun-star.com.

Reporter Carol Reiter contributed to this story.

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