A 75-year-old Modesto man died and more than half a dozen people were injured early Sunday in two suspected drunken-driving crashes reported minutes apart on Highway 99 outside Delhi, the California Highway Patrol confirmed Monday.
The Modesto man was killed in a four-car pileup in which the driver who caused the crash abandoned his car and ran away, according to CHP Officer Eric Zuniga. The second crash was reported at 12:50 a.m. Sunday in the northbound traffic lanes of Highway 99 near the Shanks Road. The first crash was reported around 12:25 a.m.
Traffic was slowing to a standstill as emergency responders scrambled to clean up the first crash. As traffic backed up, the CHP said, the driver of a 2008 Chevrolet Silverado slammed into the back of a 2014 Nissan Versa, killing the Nissan’s 75-year-old driver, investigators said.
The victim was identified Monday by the Merced County Coroner’s Office as Gary Knoll of Modesto.
The force of the collision pushed the Versa into the next car ahead, a 2012 Infinity, which was then pushed into the fourth car, a 2011 Toyota Prius. A total of six people from those two cars, all from Rancho Cordova, suffered various minor injuries and were taken to Modesto hospitals for treatment. The victims ranged in age from 15 to 44.
The driver believed to have caused the crash ran away from the scene. He later was identified by authorities Josue Orlando Cruz, a 27-year-old Livingston man. Less than an hour after abandoning his vehicle at the deadly scene, authorities said he called police to report that his pickup truck had been stolen.
Zuniga said Atwater police officers noted Cruz had several injuries, including a shoulder laceration, consistent with being involved in the collision.
“He also had some glass from the (vehicle) windows in his hair,” Zuniga told the Sun-Star. “Our officers also responded and were able to piece together that he left the scene and then tried to report his vehicle as stolen after the collision.”
Investigators also determined Cruz allegedly was under the influence of alcohol at the time of the crash, Zuniga said.
Cruz was booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of vehicular manslaughter, drunken-driving causing death and injuries, hit-and-run causing death and injuries and making a false report to law enforcement, all felonies. He remained in custody Monday at the Merced County Jail on more than $400,000 bail, according to booking records.
About 30 minutes before the deadly pileup, CHP officers were called to investigate the first crash, which was reported at around 12:25 a.m.
Officers said Marissa Anguiano, 21, of Delhi, was heading south on Highway 99 at speeds between 80 and 90 mph in her 2008 Acura TSX when she plowed into the back of a 2005 Toyota Tacoma driven by Sara Coffelt, 34, of Visalia.
Coffelt’s truck careened off the road and rolled the center median of Highway 99, landing in the northbound lane of Highway 99. Coffelt reported chest and hip pain that investigators described as “possibly minor injuries.” She was taken to Memorial Hospital for treatment.
“The driver (Anguiano) was determined to be under the influence (of alcohol),” Zuniga said. “She was taken to Mercy (Medical Center in Merced) for treatment and then was released to the officers.”
Anguiano was booked into the Merced County Jail on suspicion of drunken-driving causing injuries, a felony, and a misdemeanor allegation of driving while her license already had been suspended due to a prior drunken-driving conviction, according to booking records.
She also remained in custody Monday at the Merced County Jail on more than $200,000 bail.
Rob Parsons: 209-385-2482