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Witness to Highway 99 Wrong-Way Driver Says He ‘Was Out of His Mind’

The man who drove the wrong way down Highway 99 Thursday was laughing as he aimed his pick-up truck at cars in his path, a witness says.

The out-of-control driver, 53-year-old Richard Earl Abston, died Thursday morning after struggling with law enforcement officers. Abston drove southbound down the northbound lanes of Highway 99 near Childs Avenue. He collided with at least five cars, then led police on a foot chase along the side of the highway. Officers Tasered Abston to prevent him from running into traffic. He lost consciousness and was taken to Mercy Medical Center Merced, where he was pronounced dead about an hour later.

One of the drivers in Abston’s path was Atwater firefighter Brian McDonald, who was on his way to work Thursday morning.

Shortly after McDonald pulled onto 99 at Yosemite Park Way, traffic braked to a sudden stop, he said. McDonald assumed there was an accident or a dog in the road.

Instead, out of the pack of cars in front of him, a silver pick-up careened toward him, swerving back and forth. “I had never seen anything like it in my life,” said McDonald. With Abston bearing down on him, McDonald made a split second decision and yanked his steering wheel to the left, plowing into the median and out of Abston’s path. As Abston drove by, McDonald caught a glimpse of his face.

“He was laughing as he passed me,” said McDonald. “He seemed to be having fun...He was yanking the wheel to the right and to the left and he seemed to be enjoying himself.” He added, “The guy was trying to kill people. He was out of his mind, he was definitely out of his mind. There was nothing sane about his actions.”

Reporter Leslie Albrecht can be reached at 209 385-2484 or