Top, family of five uninjured in crash that ignited a 2.5-acre grass fire on both sides of I-5. Bottom, overturned bus in five-car chain reaction that injured seven.
If you have been watching our “Breaking News” at www. MountainEnterprise.com, you may be asking the same question we are: Are serious crashes, injuries, fires and runaway big rigs on the increase along our Grapevine section of the Interstate 5? We asked the Fort Tejon office of the California Highway Patrol to give us some facts.
In just the past 10 days we have had a five-car chain reaction crash that sent seven to the hospital. Two from the band A City Serene were reported to be in comas.
In five days alone, we had a five-car chain reaction crash that sent seven to the hospital, a single-car vehicle fire that torched two and a half acres on both sides of the freeway, and another single-car accident in which the driver was killed.
In the last two-month period from August 1 to September 21, there have already been two fatalities, 29 injuries and 67 collisions along the 25-mile stretch of I-5 patrolled by the Fort Tejon station of the CHP according to Officer Etchebarne.
The five-car chain reaction crash on September 13 injured all six members of the San Diego band A City Serene, two of whom are still listed in critical condition, three are serious but stable and one may be released shortly.
On Friday, Sept. 18, 21- year-old Derick Ruggles from Mansfield, Ohio lost control of his Toyota Celica GTS while driving “in excess of 100 miles per hour” according to CHP’s Mark Ehly, and was pronounced dead at the scene. Ruggles was stationed at Camp Pendleton.
Later that same day, the Zuniga family from Bakersfield escaped injury from a nightmare accident in which their 1997 Ford Expedition “began to accelerate uncontrollably,” according to CHP reports. The vehicle was southbound near Gorman when the driver unsuccessfully used his brakes and then tried down-shifting the transmission to get it to slow.
The transmission shifted into reverse, which caused the vehicle to spin out of control off the freeway and into a ditch. The rear tires continued spinning in reverse, eventually catching fire, which ignited nearby dried grass and pine trees. Embers from the fire blew across the freeway, consuming a total of two and a half acres on both sides of the interstate. Driver Jesus Zuniga, 34 of Bakersfield, and his 16-year-old son, Jesus Jr., pulled the family to safety.
On August 24, a fast-moving, 65-acre fire was sparked by a trailer separating from its towing vehicle across I-5 from El Tejon School. There were no injuries, but 70 firefighters from four agencies and aircraft were needed to douse the fire which threatened 15 homes.
Another horrific chain-reaction incident on August 23 was caused by a big rig that allegedly lost its brakes and hit two vehicles, the debris from which impacted a third vehicle. One person died and two were injured. The big rig driver was subsequently arrested for gross vehicular manslaughter.
This is part of the September 25, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.
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