Livingston

Guardrail to be placed along site of fatal crash

Two killed in Highway 99 crash near Livingston

A crash on Highway 99 near Livingston claimed the life of an Atwater woman and her passenger on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016,
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A crash on Highway 99 near Livingston claimed the life of an Atwater woman and her passenger on Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2016,

A crew is working toward putting in a barrier on the section of Highway 99 that has seen two tragic accidents in as many months, according to a spokesman from the California Department of Transportation.

A roughly $3 million state project is already underway to add metal railing to the median from Atwater to about Winton Parkway in Livingston, spokesman Greg Lawson said Thursday.

That stretch of highway was the scene of a collision Wednesday afternoon when a Lexus traveling north on the highway crossed over the center divide and collided with a Dodge Ram pickup truck that had been traveling south, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Both the driver and passenger in the Lexus, identified by the Merced County Coroner’s Office as McSwain residents Windly Soza and her son, Adrian, died at the scene of the crash.

Soza, 41, was a teacher at Tenaya Middle School, school officials confirmed. The 12-year-old boy was a student at the school.

We identify areas such as those that may have potential (for railing) and, of course, when we have money, those are part of our safety projects.

Greg Lawson, a spokesman with Caltrans

The collision was the only one in the last five years that involved a car crossing the center median in that stretch of road without a physical barrier, Lawson said. The other involved a bus, which on Aug. 2 crashed into a sign pole on the highway’s right side, killing four people.

“We do acknowledge that areas such as those are areas that we need to look at possibly doing guardrails or some type of barrier,” he said.

Caltrans had begun adding guardrailing before the accident, he said.

“We identify areas such as those that may have potential (for railing) and, of course, when we have money, those are part of our safety projects,” he said.

In that section of Highway 99, the roadway goes from two lanes to three.

The Dodge Ram’s driver, Michael Farmen, 63, of Fresno, suffered minor injuries, CHP Officer Moises Onsurez said.

Merced Sheriff Vern Warnke, who was the first officer on the scene, drove Farmen home to Fresno.

“He was shaken, but he was OK. Had some scratches and cuts, but he literally didn’t even require a Band-Aid,” Warnke said. “I couldn’t believe he was the driver of that truck. I’ve never seen a vehicle ripped apart like that.”

The collision occurred in the southbound lanes between the Westside Boulevard exit and the Sultana Drive offramp. The Ram struck the passenger side of the Lexus before overturning.

He was shaken, but he was OK. Had some scratches and cuts, but he literally didn’t even require a Band-Aid. I couldn’t believe he was the driver of that truck. I’ve never seen a vehicle ripped apart like that.

Sheriff Vern Warnke on the driver of the Dodge Ram

An investigation into the cause of the crash was underway Thursday, and was expected to continue for several months.

The crash occurred near the same spot on the highway where a passenger bus crashed last month, claiming the lives of four people. Carrying travelers from Mexico, the bus was ripped open when it crashed into a highway sign pole south of Livingston in a scene described as having “a tremendous amount of carnage.”

The bus was carrying about 30 people when it veered off Highway 99 and crashed just after 3:30 a.m., the CHP reported. The cause of that crash is also still under investigation.

Authorities noted the median absent of any guardrailing, calling it a “problem” for motorists. “They just haven’t gotten to that section of the road where this happened yet,” Warnke said.

Thaddeus Miller: 209-385-2453, @thaddeusmiller

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