Central Valley

CHP says it erred in initial report of wrong-way crash that killed 3 in Modesto

Marques and Sabrina Rodriguez of Manteca, Calif. are pictured in a photo posted on his Facebook page in September of 2012. Marques was killed in a head-on collision on Highway 99 north of Pelandale Avenue in Modesto on December 22nd.
Marques and Sabrina Rodriguez of Manteca, Calif. are pictured in a photo posted on his Facebook page in September of 2012. Marques was killed in a head-on collision on Highway 99 north of Pelandale Avenue in Modesto on December 22nd. Courtesy of Sabrina Rodriguez

The California Highway Patrol has determined that its preliminary findings in a deadly head-on collision on Highway 99 in Modesto last month were incorrect.

It reported Wednesday that the female driver of a 2007 Chevrolet Tahoe was going in the wrong direction early the morning of Dec. 22. It initially reported in a release distributed to the media that the male driver of a GMC Yukon — with a small child on board — was traveling in the wrong direction.

All three died in the collision.

The crash occurred about 12:34 a.m. in the southbound lanes of Highway 99, north of Pelandale Avenue. Terilyn Peralta, 24, of Salida was for unknown reasons driving north in the Tahoe, the CHP reported.

Meanwhile, Schwan Taylor, 40, of Empire was driving south in a 1997 Toyota with a passenger, Clarence Taylor, 69, of Modesto, inside. Behind them in a 2004 GMC Yukon were Marques A. Rodriguez, 32, of Manteca and his 5-month-old daughter, Izabelle Jalissa Viola Rodriguez.

The Tahoe sideswiped the Toyota and then struck the Yukon head-on. Both the Tahoe and Yukon caught fire, and Peralta, Rodriguez and his daughter died at the scene.

“Our initial press release is inaccurate,” CHP spokesman Officer Thomas Olsen said Wednesday morning. It got the directions of the Tahoe and Yukon backward, he said. “Based on our investigation, we have determined the white Tahoe was going northbound.”

Reports are built on physical evidence and witness accounts. “I can’t give specifics on witness statements, but keep in mind it happened at night with vehicles approaching each other at freeway speeds, and it can be difficult for witnesses to obtain accurate vehicle descriptions,” Olsen said.

Further inspection of the vehicles and physical evidence obtained show the Tahoe was the one heading the wrong way, he said.

Olsen called the crash scene complex, and said investigators had an abundance of evidence to process.

Houston Police Department Sgt. Robert Gonzales talks about how to avoid being struck by a wrong-way driver.

As to how Peralta ended up driving north in the southbound lanes, there’s been no determination. Reached Wednesday, Peralta’s family contested the revised report.

The CHP is awaiting toxicology test results on the victims, which “may point us in the right direction,” Olsen said. But those results typically don’t come for four to eight weeks after a collision.

Sabrina Rodriguez, wife of Marques Rodriguez, said that until Tuesday, she’d not heard anything from the CHP about corrected findings. “After you released my husband’s name, I was very upset and drove out there,” she said, referring to a Modesto Bee report Tuesday that first publicly identified her husband and daughter. She said a very nice officer took her information but told her it could be up to a week before she heard back.

She said that both before and after her husband was identified by name, it was frustrating to see him “dragged through the dirt” as being the driver at fault. “I don’t know why the investigation is taking so long. Isn’t there paint on the sideswiped car?” she added, noting that the Tahoe was white.

Rodriguez said her husband was headed from Manteca to Ceres that night to haul a trailer for a friend. He had Izabelle because Sabrina Rodriguez was at her job with UPS. The last person to speak with Marques was the friend, whom he called at 12:27 a.m. to say he was about 10 minutes away, and to have the trailer ready because he had to pick up his wife from work right afterward, Rodriguez said.

Talking by phone Wednesday, Rodriguez took a moment to reflect on her husband, who she said was a welder and mechanic who could fix pretty much everything. She called him her “MacGyver,” referring to the TV series hero with almost infinite resourcefulness. “If there was a zombie apocalypse, he’d be the one you want around,” she said of Marques.

“He loved fishing but was horrible at it, never caught anything,” she continued. “I never saw a guy who could fish all day, come home empty-handed and want to go right back out the next morning.”

He loved the Oakland Raiders and working on cars, too, Rodriguez said, but above all he loved his family. She has a 17-year-old son from a previous relationship, and there was a time she figured he’d be her only child. But when she met Marques and married him 11 years ago, he wanted a big family — “a baseball team,” she said. And so they had three children together: 7- and 4-year-old daughters and then Izabelle.

Learning of the crash, Rodriguez said she questioned, “How can God take my husband and baby?” And when she woke up the morning of Dec. 23, she thought, “I just know I’m pregnant.”

She took a home pregnancy test, and then another. Both read that she was indeed pregnant. She said Wednesday that she hasn’t yet seen a doctor, but a positive home test has “been my message with all my children.”

“I feel like it was a gift from God,” she said, adding that she believes she’ll be due in July or August.

Family has set up a gofundme account to help Rodriguez and the couple’s children in this difficult time. In a post on the page, she wrote, “I really am lost and broken and I feel defeated. It’s not fair. I miss them both so much.”

Her 4-year-old doesn’t really understand what’s happened to her daddy and sister, Rodriguez said, and “my 7-year-old all day long repeatedly tells me she loves me.”

Deke has been an editor and reporter with The Modesto Bee since 1995. He currently does breaking-news, education and human-interest reporting. A Beyer High grad, he studied geology and journalism at UC Davis and CSU Sacramento.