Dozens of vehicles collide on foggy Kern County highway

The Associated Press
Friday January 04, 2002

CALIENTE — Seventy-seven vehicles collided in fog on Highway 58 Thursday, killing one motorist and injuring 15. Two other chain-reaction collisions in Kern County crunched 13 more vehicles on foggy Interstate 5. 

The biggest pileups began shortly after 9 a.m. on Highway 58 about 90 miles northwest of Los Angeles in the foothills of the Tehachapi Mountains, which separate the Mojave Desert from the southern San Joaquin Valley. 

Arriving officers estimated visibility at 100 feet and found jackknifed big-rigs, an overturned cement truck, a person pinned under a pickup truck’s steering wheel, with more collisions continuing to occur, California Highway Patrol Sgt. Ted Eichman said. 

Fifty-five cars and trucks were involved in the first collision; the second occurred east of the original smashup. 

A California Department of Corrections prisoner van was involved but no inmates were injured or escaped, CHP spokesman Tom Marshall said. 

A Kern County firetruck parked on Highway 58 was struck by a private vehicle, which was heavily damaged, fire Capt. Doug Johnston said. The highway was closed by that time and it was unknown how that car got onto the road, he said. 

“The scene looks like a war zone,” Johnston said. 

The county coroner’s office identified the fatality as Carl Ray Woosley, 52, of Bakersfield. Other motorists removed the man from his vehicle and tried to save him with cardiopulmonary resuscitation, Johnston said. 

It took until midafternoon for the CHP to reopen the westbound side of the heavily traveled highway, and the eastbound side was not reopened until nightfall. 

“There’s only so much you can do to unwrap these vehicles,” Eichman said. 

The Highway 58 accidents were followed by two others that had no injuries. Nine vehicles were involved in a southbound Interstate 5 pileup in Tejon Pass, and four vehicles crashed on southbound I-5 at State Route 43 near Buttonwillow, Eichman said. 

Eichman stressed that although fog appeared to be connected to the crashes, “Fog doesn’t cause collisions; unsafe driving does.” 

The National Weather Service had issued dense fog advisories for the central and southern San Joaquin Valley. 

Because the area of the largest crash was bounded to the south by the Tehachapis, to the east by the southern Sierra Nevada and to the west by the coastal range, when fog comes, “that’ll be the last place it burns off,” said forecaster Gary Sanger of the service’s Hanford office. 

The weather service predicted more fog Thursday night and Friday throughout the Central Valley, with potential for dense fog during the morning commute.