Fiery crash kills 2 in Merced

Two people died Wednesday after a car slammed into a Merced house and burst into flames.

The vehicle, a 2012 Nissan Altima, crashed into the home just before 11 a.m. in the 400 block of Rambler Road, killing the car’s driver and passenger. No one was inside the home when the crash happened, according to Merced police.

Both bodies were badly burned in the wreck and neither has been identified by investigators, Sgt. Jay Struble said. “We have not determined if they are males or females or where they are from,” Struble said.

The vehicle sheared off a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. gas meter and struck the home’s electrical panel, which triggered the flames, Merced Fire Battalion Chief Shawn Henry said.

Utility workers struggled to cut off the gas line, which fueled the fire for more than two hours before it was extinguished, firefighters said.

Witnesses said it seemed the driver may have experienced some type of medical episode before the crash. The driver appeared to be slumped over and the passenger was reaching for the steering wheel. They estimated the car hit the house at 35 to 40 mph.

Police said it’s still too early in the investigation to comment on any possible causes. The case is being investigated by the Merced Police Department’s traffic unit.

It appears the car was heading north on Alexander Avenue when it left the road and hit several trash cans before going through the intersection with Rambler Road and into the house, said Jose Acuna, a witness.

Acuna, 25, was in the neighborhood to work on a plumbing job when he first noticed the vehicle. He said it appeared that one of the occupants tried to escape from the burning vehicle after the crash.

“One of the older men, he tried to climb out the back, the driver’s side, but there was too much smoke and I didn’t see him again,” Acuna said.

Witnesses said fire consumed the vehicle quickly, before anyone could get to the people inside.

Gabriel Valenzuela was driving on Rambler Road and pulled over when he saw the heavy black smoke. “I tried to find something that I could break the back window with, but by the time I found it, there was nothing I could do,” Valenzuela said.

Sixteen firefighters responded from the Merced Fire Department and remained on scene for several hours.

“Because we weren’t able to get to the fire for some time, there was serious structural damage to the home,” Henry said.

Fire spread to the attic, but was contained there, officials said.

A damage estimate was not available Wednesday.