CHP responds to two fatal crashes in Merced County

Two people were killed in separate auto collisions Thursday morning in Merced County, the California Highway Patrol reported.

The first incident was reported around 7:30 a.m. and involved an 2003 Oldsmobile Alero and a GMC pickup at the intersection of Walnut Avenue and Shaffer Road in the Winton area, according to Officer John Patterson, CHP spokesman.

The driver of the 2003 Oldsmobile, 31-year-old Inocencia Rodriguez, was pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the GMC pickup, 18-year-old Tanner Womack of Winton, received minor injuries. There were no passengers in either vehicle, Patterson said.

Rodriguez had stopped at a stop sign on eastbound Walnut Avenue at Shaffer Road. Meanwhile, Womack was traveling southbound at an unknown speed on Shaffer Road in the GMC pickup, approaching the intersection. Patterson pointed out there's only stop signs on Walnut Avenue, at the intersection with Shaffer Road.

For unknown reasons, Rodriguez accelerated and drove directly into the GMC's path. The GMC crashed into the Oldsmobile's driver side door, killing Rodriguez. The Oldsmobile came to a rest on the southeast corner of the intersection in an almond orchard, while the GMC came to a rest blocking the northbound lane of Shaffer Road, Patterson said.

Womack said he'd seek his own aid.

The second crash involved a big rig truck and a 1999 Chevy Cavalier, and was reported at 11:05 a.m. on Highway 165, south of Turner Avenue in the Hilmar area.

The 57-year-old female passenger in the Chevy Cavalier was pronounced dead at the scene. The Merced County Coroner's Office hasn't released her name. The driver of the Cavalier, 67-year-old Esperanza Alvarez of Stevinson, and her 7-year-old passenger Alejandra Murillo of Stevinson, were flown to Modesto hospitals with major injuries, Patterson said.

The big rig's driver, 25-year-old Damian Wilke of Modesto, was unhurt.

Alvarez was driving the Cavalier northbound on Highway 165 at an unknown speed. Meanwhile, the big rig was traveling southbound on Highway 165 at about 35 mph.

For unknown reasons, Alvarez allowed the tires on the right side of the Cavalier to travel onto the south dirt and gravel shoulder of Highway 165. She turned back to the left and lost control of the vehicle.

The Cavalier began spinning out of control in a counter-clockwise direction, traveling across the southbound lane of Highway 165, into the northbound lane, directly into the big rig's path. The big rig driver's applied his brakes, but couldn't avoid a crash. The left front of the big rig crashed into the right side of the Cavalier.

Both vehicles came to a rest in the southbound lane of Highway 165. Traffic was backed up in both directions, as CHP and paramedics responded to the scene.

DUI isn't believed to be a factor in either crash.

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