Investigators searched for answers Sunday into the cause of four separate crashes, involving 16 vehicles total, that claimed the lives of two Lodi men on Highway 59 just outside Merced.
The California Highway Patrol said there was fog reported in the area around the time of the crashes, and noted visibility at the time of the first crash was less than 50 feet. However, the CHP said the cause of the crashes remains under investigation.
The first crash was reported about 7:40 a.m. Saturday on Highway 59 near Rahilly Road, Officer Moises Onsurez said.
Officers confirmed two people died as a result of the first crash, Onsurez said.
Two men, 35 and 47, both Lodi residents, died at the scene. The driver of their vehicle, Eduardo Barajasaguilar, 38, of Empire, was taken to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto with major injuries. An update on his condition was not available.
Names of the two people killed were not released pending notifications to their families, the Merced County Coroner’s Office said.
They were in a Dodge Ram pickup truck that crashed into the back of a vehicle described by the CHP as “a milk truck” before being hit by a Chevrolet Tahoe and a Chevrolet van, the CHP said.
A second crash was reported in the same area as officers were responding to the first call, the CHP said.
Rene Escalante, 44, of Dos Palos suffered minor injuries in the second crash. No other injuries were reported.
A third and a fourth crash were reported a short time later.
Sixteen vehicles were involved in the four crashes. Wreckage from the vehicles was strewn across about a half-mile of the roadway, the CHP reported.
Investigators closed Highway 59 at Sandy Mush Road and just south of Vassar Avenue for more than five hours as emergency responders cleaned up the scene.
Onsurez said the Merced office of the CHP is leading the investigation, but also said investigators from the CHP’s Major Accident Investigation Team could possibly be called in to assist.