Runaway Big Rig Kills One Near Tejon

By Mountain Enterprise Staff

Headed home to Fresno on Interstate 5 with four friends, Sumiko Imamura, 67, an office manager for a medical supply firm there, was killed in a tragic crash shortly after 4 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23.

The car in which Imamura was a passenger is one of two vehicles struck by a big rig that reportedly lost its brakes on northbound I-5 near Fort Tejon, not far from El Tejon School.

California Highway Patrol Officer Patrick Etchebarne said that after losing its brakes, “The truck continued to gain speed down the hill and collided with a Mazda sports utility vehicle in the I-5 northbound fast lane, just north of the runaway escape ramp on the west side of the road. This caused the Mazda to travel onto a dirt embankment west of the freeway where it rolled over.”

Imamura was ejected from the Mazda. She was pronounced dead at the scene. Two others traveling with her were injured and transported by ground to a local hospital. The remaining two passengers in that car were uninjured.

The truck tractor continued northbound and collided with a Ford pickup within the second lane. This collision caused debris to be propelled into the third lane where it struck a Subaru Impreza.

Etchebarne said the truck continued northbound until it came to rest just north of Laval Road.

"The driver was subsequently arrested for gross vehicular manslaughter and was booked at the Kern County jail,” Etchebarne concluded.

In a phone interview Wednesday, Aug. 26 CHP Sergeant Mark Ehly said the driver of the runaway big rig claims to have been doing no more than 40 miles per hour and claimed no knowledge of hitting any other vehicles.

The matter is still under investigation.

–Patric Hedund and Katy Penland contributed to this report

This is part of the August 28, 2009 online edition of The Mountain Enterprise.

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