GOSHEN — A head-on crash between two big rigs killed one driver and closed the northbound lanes of Highway 99 for several hours Tuesday, causing a massive traffic jam.
The accident happened at 7:14 a.m. when the driver of a tractor-trailer heading south and carrying an empty shipping container lost control and crossed the center divider, slamming into a truck hauling Tecate beer.
Hundreds of 16-ounce cans of Tecate were visible in the wreckage, and even late in the day after traffic was moving again, the odor of beer permeated the air.
After the crash, traffic backed up for miles in each direction -- south to Tulare and as far north as Traver, the CHP said. A single northbound lane reopened at 2:37 p.m. and the highway was fully reopened by 6:42 p.m.
Juan Alatorre, a mechanic at D & R Equipment Rentals in Goshen, said he was working in the equipment yard, which is separated from the freeway by only a chain-link fence, when he heard a loud noise.
"The first thing I heard was braking tires, then a loud 'bang!' " he said.
He looked up to see one truck on its side with black smoke rising and another tractor torn to shreds and also burning.
"The motor and everything were on the road," he said.
He called out to a fellow employee, and they ran over to the truck cab that had been knocked on its side and saw the driver emerge from the passenger side window.
"He crawled out," Alatorre said. "He was bleeding from his hands and face. He wasn't talking. He seemed to be in shock."
A Honda car heading north also crashed. The driver, a young man, was bleeding from his nose but appeared to be relatively unhurt, Alatorre said. The young man told Alatorre he lived in Visalia and was driving to California State University, Fresno for classes.
Alatorre ran to a water truck in the equipment yard, partly filled it and then fought the fire for several minutes until the Tulare County Fire Department arrived.
The surviving drivers were taken to Kaweah Delta Medical Center in Visalia, the CHP said.
The southbound truck crossed over a concrete barrier in the center divider, CHP spokesman Scott Harris said. Why the driver lost control will be the focus of the accident investigation, Harris said.
A toxicology test will determine if the driver was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, he said.
"We'll piece most of it together, but the exact reason may never be known," Harris said.
The truck was from Fresno, but the hometown of the driver was not available, he said.
According to the CHP dispatch log on the agency's website, calls came in about a big rig weaving on southbound Highway 99 several minutes before the crash. The weaving truck was described as carrying a red cargo container.
The shipping container on the truck that crossed the median was red, and Scott said investigators would try to determine if it was the same big rig.
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