Mendota, CA Van And Truck Crash, Nov 1997
11 KILLED AS VAN AND TRUCK COLLIDE IN FOG.
ACCIDENT: Most of the victims are believed to be farm workers. Vehicles slammed into each other near Fresno in an area known for winter visibility problems.
Mendota, Calif. - Eleven people, including a 1-year-old baby, were killed Sunday when the van carrying them slammed into a tractor-trailer on a fog-shrouded rural highway, authorities said.
The 10 adult victims were believed to be farm workers, California Highway Patrol spokesman Bill Nation said.
The big-rig driver told authorities the accident occurred in dense fog about 9:45 a.m. when the driver of the van tried to pass another car but did not see the oncoming truck.
The truck driver, who was not seriously hurt, told the CHP he slammed on the brakes, trying to avoid the crash. Instead, the rig jackknifed, blocking the van's path.
One farm worker in the back of the van fractured both arms and foot and was in stable condition at a Fresno hospital. He was identified as DOLORES ARRIAGA, 31. The others were dead at the scene.
"It was pretty traumatic to see that," Nation said. "I've been on patrol 12 years sand I've never witnesses an accident like that one."
Three of the victims - the baby, driver and front-seat passenger - were wearing seat belts, Nation said. "With this type of accident, I don't know that seat belts would have been a factor."
Identities of the victims were not immediately available, although some of those killed were related, Nation said.
The crash occurred on a straight stretch of two-lane state Highway 180 four miles east of the Fresno County farming town of Mendota.
Hours after the crash, dirt covered a 9-year-long oil slick. Orange chalk marks were evident, including three that appeared to be outlines of bodies.
Traffic was blocked for three miles on each side of the accident but authorities reopened the highway late Sunday afternoon. CHP investigators were expected back at the scene Monday.
The crash site is about 30 miles northeast of the site of a 1991 multiple-car crash that killed 17 people and injured scores of others. At the time, that wreck, caused by a blinding dust storm, was called the nation's worst ever.
Fresno County, like others in the Central Valley, is plagued with tule fog for weeks at a time during the winter. The fog gets its name because it typically forms around the tule marshes, creeping out across fields and roads. Sometimes it lifts for only a few hours during the day before it sets back in, shrouding the nights and early mornings.
Mendota, about 160 miles southeast of San Francisco, is a small farm town on Fresno County's west side surrounded by vegetable and melon fields. Its population nearly doubles to about 15,000 each spring with the arrival of seasonal farm workers from Mexico and Central America.
The migrants who tend to the 250 crops of the San Joaquin Valley, the nation's richest farm belt, follow the same rhythm year to year, harvest in summer, pruning in fall and a return across the border in November.
All too often, however, the migration of the farm workers in Fresno and other Southern California counties is accompanied by deadly accidents involving crowded vans or trucks.
Eleven people, many of the Mexican immigrants, died about eight weeks ago in a fiery crash on Highway 1 near rural Lompoc in Santa Barbara County. Accident investigators said a Ford pickup truck slammed into a Chevrolet van, leaving eight of the 12 people in the van dead. All three people in the pickup died. Investigators said several of the victims of that accident had spent the day selling corn.
Last June, five Mexican immigrants were killed and three others injured when a tractor-trailer slammed into the rear of a van laden with mangoes and strawberries on Interstate 5 near Buttonwillow south of Fresno.
In July 1996, five people were killed and 10 injured in a predawn accident on California 33 near Mendota when a van collided head-on with a car and exploded.
Los Angeles Times California 1997-11-17
Listing of the Casualties:
DAVID HUGO ESCALANTE, 24, driver.
his wife LAURA ELIZABETH LARREYNAGA.
their daughter JANIE LARREYNAGA, 1 year old.
JOSE BALTAZAR LARREYNAGA, 45.
his wife MARIA LAURA LARREYNAGA.
JOSE M. ESCALANTE, 23.
GUILLERMO PINEDA RIVAS, 23.
JOSE PAUL ABARCA, 32.
CRUZ ANTONIO MEMBRANO, 46.
MARIO ESCOBAR TORRES, 28.
RENE ALVARENZA ESCOBAR, 22.