Five people died and two were airlifted with major injuries in a crash about seven miles east of Groveland on Saturday evening.
At least one vehicle caught fire following the 6:30 p.m. head-on collision on Highway 120 east of Smith Station Road. People inside the cars could not get out, the CHP reported.
“It’s one of the worst we’ve had in a while,” said Nick Norton, public information officer for the office.
According to the CHP, Marcos Lopez Martinez, 22, of Groveland was driving a 2012 Nissan Maxima east when it collided with a westbound 2012 Mercedes, registered out of San Jose. That driver has not been identified pending notification of relatives.
Martinez was declared dead at the scene. His passenger, Sasha Magana, 22, of Merced, was flown to a Modesto hospital with major injuries.
The driver and three passengers in the Mercedes died at the scene. A fourth passenger in the Mercedes was also airlifted to a Modesto hospital.
The fire spread from the cars to the hillside area of the Stanislaus National Forest and the highway was closed for about five hours. Traffic was diverted to Ferretti Road until the road reopened. The fire was put out by crews called to the scene.
Drugs or alcohol have not been ruled out as contributing to the crash, a CHP statement said.
Witnesses are asked to contact the California Highway Patrol, Sonora office, at 209-984-3944, attention Officer Griefer.