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Identities of two men who died in early-morning crash released

Two Atwater men died early Monday morning when their speeding car struck a truck-trailer just south of the intersection of Austin Avenue and Devonwood Drive in North Merced. Cmdr. Floyd Higdon of the Merced Police Department identified the fatalities as Tony Martinez Medina III, the driver, and his passenger, Ernesto Rodriguez Tapia, both, 19, from Atwater. They were pronounced dead by medical personnel at the scene of the 3:20 a.m. accident behind the Lowe’s home improvement store. The 2003 Nissan two-door ran under the rear trailer of a two-trailer combination. Speed appears to be the primary cause of the collision. Alcohol is not suspected, but cannot be ruled out until an autopsy is completed, Higdon said.Medina and Tapia are the first motor vehicle deaths so far this year in the city of Merced. At this time last year there had been no fatalities and three people died last year in accidents within city limits, Higdon reported.The Nissan was traveling the loop from Loughborough Drive onto Devonwood Drive, and then onto Austin Avenue in an eastbound direction. As it curved onto Austin Avenue, the vehicle lost traction and started to skid to the right side. The Nissan’s right front and rear quarter panel drifted into the rear of the parked flatbed trailer, with the vehicle coming to rest underneath the trailer. The truck and trailers were parked on the eastside of Austin Avenue, next to and under a streetlight. There was no one in the parked truck at the time of the collision, Higdon said.The accident continues under investigation of the department’s Traffic Division.Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or

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