A summer of deadly crashes on Westside highways culminated in two recent wrecks that resulted in the deaths of four people. It has also spurred the Firebaugh Police Department to ramp up traffic enforcement to hopefully cut down on the tragic losses.
The first wreck occurred on Friday, October 21 at 11 p.m. on Highway 33 four miles south of Firebaugh. The California Highway Patrol office in Los Banos said that a 2012 Ford was heading north on Highway 33 just south of Shaw Avenue. At the same time, a 2016 Kenworth pulling a two-axle flatbed trailer loaded with fertilizer was heading south on Highway 33.
The CHP said that for some unknown reason, the driver of the Ford allowed her vehicle to drift into the southbound lane directly into the path of the Kenworth.
“A crash was unavoidable, and the vehicles collided head-on,” said CHP spokesman Shannon Stiers. Both vehicles sustained major front-end damage as a result of the crash.
The female driver of the Ford as well as a male passenger on board sustained fatal injuries and were declared dead at the scene. She was identified as 24-year old, Andrea Gabriel of Firebaugh, and the passenger was identified as Michael Arvizu, 22, of Kerman.
The driver of the Kenworth Jimmy Savaria, 19, of Mendota, sustained minor injuries.
The second crash occurred on Monday, October 24. The CHP said that they were called to an incident on Shields Avenue at Russell Avenue at about 4:35 p.m.
Officer Stiers said that a 2020 Toyota SUV was heading west on Shields Avenue approaching a stop sign on Russell Avenue. At the same time, a 2021 Peterbilt pulling two trailers was heading south on Russell Avenue going approximately 60 mph.
The Toyota failed to stop at the posted stop sign and unsafely entered the intersection. The front end of the Peterbilt crashed into the right side of the Toyota. Two female passengers in the SUV were trapped inside the vehicle and succumbed to their injuries. They were identified as Fatimah Rambo, 35, of Tracy, and Leslie Boston, 64, of Hayward. The driver, 36-year-old Aala Ahmed of Livermore, was transported to a Fresno hospital with moderate injuries.
The driver of the big rig, Jagdish Thind, 46, of Marysville, was not injured.
In the aftermath of these accidents, Firebaugh Police Chief Sal Raygoza announced that his department was awarded a $50,000 grant to deter unsafe driving behaviors and increase safety on local roads and highways.
“The grant funding allows us to support our ongoing traffic safety efforts in the community,” Chief Raygoza said, “When you’re behind the wheel of a car, safe driving should be the number one concern. We will focus on stopping the most unlawful and dangerous driving behaviors and create an environment where everyone feels safe walking or driving on our roads.”
The grant will provide additional programs and resources, including:
• DUI checkpoints and patrols focused on stopping suspected impaired drivers.
• High visibility distracted driving enforcement operations targeting drivers in violation of California’s hands-free cell phone law.
• Enforcement operations focused on the most dangerous driver behaviors that put the safety of people biking or walking at risk.
Enforcement operations focused on top violations that cause crashes: speeding, failure to yield, stop sign and/or red-light running, and improper turning or lane changes.
• Community presentations on traffic safety issues such as distracted driving, impaired driving, speeding, bicycle and pedestrian safety.
• Collaborative enforcement efforts with neighboring agencies.
• Officer training and/or recertification: Standard Field Sobriety Test (SFST), Advanced Roadside Impaired Driving Enforcement (ARIDE) and Drug Recognition Expert (DRE).
Funding for this program was provided by a grant from the California Office of Traffic Safety, through the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.