State

Head-on crash near Oakdale kills one, fire swallows SUV, truck

OAKDALE -- A woman driving a sport utility vehicle died Thursday morning on Highway 108-120 a few miles east of town when her SUV drifted into the opposite lane and hit a truck head-on, the California Highway Patrol reported.

Both vehicles burst into flames, but the truck driver got out of his vehicle and was not seriously injured.

The woman, driving a 1992 Isuzu Rodeo, was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said.

Because of the severity of the woman's burns, Stanislaus County coroner officials said they will have to use dental records to positively identify the woman Monday.

Coroner officials believe they know who the woman is and notified her family, but they declined to release the woman's name, age and city of residence until they make a positive match with the dental records.

The truck driver, Michael Holsen, 39, of Modesto, suffered minor to moderate injuries and was taken to a hospital for treatment, said officer John Martinez, a CHP spokesman.

He said Holsen was driving an International truck and hauling more than 200 vehicle batteries for Interstate Batteries.

There were no other occupants in the two vehicles, and no other injuries were reported.

Witness saw SUV weaving

The crash occurred shortly before 8 a.m. on the highway, just east of Lancaster Road.

Martinez said the truck was heading east on the highway about 45 to 50 mph, and the SUV was traveling west about 50 to 55 mph. This area of the highway has one lane in each direction.

A witness, who was driving in front of the Isuzu, told CHP officers she saw the SUV weaving across the westbound lane shortly before the crash, Martinez said. The CHP is investigating whether alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash.

In an area where the highway curves, the SUV drifted into the opposite lane and hit the truck head-on, Martinez said.

A fire engulfed the SUV and the truck, he said. Holsen got out of the truck on his own, Martinez said, but the SUV driver did not.

Another witness, Cyndi Ballesteros, said she was driving toward Sonora behind the truck when the SUV crossed over the center line and smashed into the truck.

"The guy in the battery truck got out," Ballesteros said. "We couldn't get near the car."

She said the vehicles then became engulfed in flames and "batteries were exploding."

Martinez said authorities were concerned sulfuric acid spilling from the batteries could create breathing problems for drivers moving through the area. The CHP closed the highway in both directions.

A hazardous materials team was called to clean up the spill and ensure the area was safe.

Traffic was detoured for about nine hours. The highway was reopened shortly after 5 p.m., according to the CHP.

Bee staff writer Rosalio Ahumada can be reached at rahumada@modbee.com or 578-2394.

CHP official talks about crash at the scene

    
Cell phone video from scene after collision and fire

Related stories from Merced Sun-Star

  Comments