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Wrong-way driver plows down Highway 99, dies after struggle with police

A man is dead after he drove the wrong way on Highway 99 in Merced on Thursday — and later struggled with Merced Police and California Highway Patrol officers.

The incident occurred after CHP dispatch received a 7:38 a.m. call about a man driving a silver Dodge truck southbound in the northbound lane of Highway 99, according to CHP spokesperson Shane Ferriera.

Ferriera said the man collided with several vehicles along the way and eventually came to a stop on the center median of the highway near the Childs Avenue exit.

A CHP officer ordered the man to exit the vehicle, which he refused to do, Ferriera said. A struggle ensued between the man and the officer, as the officer tried to physically remove the man from the truck.

At that point, the man began waving his arms and became combative with the officer. During the struggle, the officer struck the man with his night stick, Ferriera said.

The man fled on foot, running south on the highway — and climbed on top of a parked big rig, Ferriera said. By that time, Merced police had also arrived. The man, who had climbed on top of the big rig’s cab, was ordered to get off of the truck. While the man was on top of the truck, he was pepper-sprayed by officers, according to Merced Police Cmdr. Floyd Higdon.

When the suspect finally did jump off the truck, he continued to run from officers. Police said he was shot with a Taser at 7:47 a.m. to prevent him from running into oncoming traffic.

Although police tried to restrain the man after he fell on the ground, he continued to struggle, interlocking his fingers under his stomach. Officers then turned the suspect on his back and restrained him in handcuffs in front of his body, Higdon said.

After the man was finally restrained, however, he lost consciousness. Higdon said an ambulance was called at 7:49 a.m. and he was transported to Mercy Medical Center Merced. He was pronounced dead at 8:47 a.m.

Merced Police Lt. Bimley West said the man banged his own head against the highway while officers tried to restrain him. During the struggle, police said he also kicked Merced Police Officer Jason Hart in the shoulder, injuring him. Merced Police Officer Noemi Arellano and CHP Officer Shane Kensey also suffered from twisted ankles during the ordeal, police said.