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Was fatal Highway 168 crash that killed two Clovis men intentional?

Rescuers Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at the scene of a crash down an embankment from Highway 168 on the four-lane section below Shaver Lake. Two people died and one survived.
Rescuers Tuesday, May 2, 2017 at the scene of a crash down an embankment from Highway 168 on the four-lane section below Shaver Lake. Two people died and one survived.

A crash that killed two Clovis men on Highway 168 is being investigated as a “possible intentional act,” the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office confirmed.

Tony Botti, sheriff’s spokesman, said statements made by the lone survivor and family members of the two men killed in the crash has triggered a probe of the cause of the crash.

“We are running a parallel investigation and we are looking at if there was any intent,” said Botti.

He said family members of both men who died gave sheriff’s investigators information but didn’t confirm or deny that the crash could have been intentional.

Those interviews “raised some flags,” Botti said, “and CHP asked us if we could look into this a little more. We thought it was better to be safe than sorry and start an investigation.”

The crash on Highway 168 occurred late Monday on the four-lane highway about a mile west of Beal Fire Road, between Auberry and Shaver Lake. The men left Clovis about 9:30 p.m. Monday night. The crash is believed to have occurred about 11 p.m.

The silver 2003 Chevrolet Avalanche was spotted about 12 hours later by a firefighter who spotted the truck about 200 to 300 yards from the road, down a steep, rocky embankment. When a CHP officer got to the scene, he heard a man yelling for help from the truck.

“We are really going to need to talk to the survivor a little bit more,” Botti said. “He is not quite there yet to talk to us.”

Killed in the crash was the driver, Austin Wagenleitner, 20, and passenger, Aaron Beasley, 19, both of Clovis. The two were ejected from the pickup.

The survivor, Jason Kirby, 24, of Clovis, was rescued after being extricated from the pickup truck by firefighters. Kirby was the only one wearing a seat belt, said California Highway Patrol Officer Vic Taylor. He is being treated at Community Regional Medical Center.

Taylor said he spoke with a family member of the driver, who told him the men were going to the mountains to “chop wood.”

The CHP’s Major Accident Investigation Team also is examining the cause of the crash.

Marc Benjamin: 559-441-6166, @3dogbenjamin

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