CHP officer held in crash on 99, suspected of DUI

MERCED — An officer with the California Highway Patrol's Merced area office was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence early Thursday after a two-car collision on northbound Highway 99 near Livingston.

Joseph Mendoza, 26, of Fresno was taken into custody after the crash, reported about 1:15 a.m. south of Cressey Way, according to Shane Ferriera, CHP spokesman.

Investigators say Mendoza rear-ended another car in the fast lane of the highway.

He was off duty at the time of the crash and was driving a 2010 Dodge Challenger. Mendoza wasn't hurt in the crash, and the driver of the other car received minor injuries.

Before the crash, 29-year-old James Burns of Manteca was traveling in the fast lane of northbound Highway 99, driving a 2002 Volkswagen Jetta at an unknown rate of speed. Mendoza was traveling behind Burns in the same lane, also at an unknown rate of speed, Ferriera said.

Mendoza crashed into the back of Burns' car, and both cars pulled over to the right shoulder, Ferriera said.

CHP officers arrived at the scene, and Mendoza was given a field sobriety test. Ferriera said Mendoza submitted to a breath test, and officers determined he was driving with a blood alcohol level above the state's 0.08 percent legal limit.

Burns, who had minor injuries, declined an ambulance. As a precaution, he was taken to Mercy Medical Center Merced by the CHP.

Both vehicles had moderate damage.

Mendoza was booked at Merced County Jail on suspicion of misdemeanor driving under the influence and driving with a blood alcohol level of 0.8 percent or greater. He was released from jail about 10 minutes after he was booked, on his own recognizance.

Burns, who is the Merced Sun-Star's managing and sports editor, was treated and released.

Burns said he was driving home from work when the crash happened. "I'm counting my blessings because it could have been much, much worse," Burns said.

Mendoza remains employed with the CHP and hasn't been placed on administrative leave, Ferriera said.

Ferriera said the case remains under investigation, and the CHP has launched an internal investigation into the incident.