2 killed in huge pileup in tule fog on California 99

Times Staff Writers

A massive highway pileup killed at least two people Saturday and shut a section of northbound California 99 in Fresno, clogging one of the state’s major north-south routes.

All three northbound lanes were expected to be closed until at least midnight Saturday as authorities investigated what sparked the crashes, said California Highway Patrol Officer Scott Jobinger. The southbound lanes remained open.

A total of 108 vehicles, including 18 big rigs, were involved in the collisions, which occurred about 7:45 a.m. over a two-mile stretch in dense fog, authorities said.


“It’s a chain-reaction crash due to unsafe speeds in foggy conditions,” Jobinger said.

A 62-year-old man from San Antonio was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving after his vehicle was involved in a collision near the front of the pileup, authorities said.

But the combination of fog and excessive speed by many vehicles was suspected to be the primary cause of the pileup, an official said.

A 26-year-old man identified as Travis Rogers and an unidentified 5-year-old boy were killed in separate vehicles. Paramedics took more than three dozen people to the hospital.

Officials considered it one of the worst accidents on California 99 in at least 10 years.

Many people had to be extricated from their vehicles, including at least one person whose car slid under a big rig at the northern end of the crash scene, Jobinger said.

Hazardous materials cleanup crews arrived to mop up about 90 gallons of diesel leaked from the ruptured fuel tanks of various trucks.

Authorities were relieved that no hazardous or other problematic truckloads were spilled on the major corridor for California industry and agriculture.


Cindy Ramirez, 21, told the Associated Press that her Mazda pickup truck was rear-ended as she was driving to her job as a window washer in Shaver Lake, 50 miles northeast of Fresno.

“Everybody was trying to miss everybody, but it was impossible not to get hit,” said Ramirez, a resident of Selma, just south of the crash site.

The accident occurred north of American Avenue in southern Fresno, and CHP officers closed the highway at the Clovis Avenue exit. By midday, traffic had backed up about three miles south of the collision scene.

Northbound motorists on California 99 were told to use Golden State Boulevard as an alternative route.

The pileup occurred on a straight stretch of road surrounded by flat farmland.

National Weather Service meteorologist Jim Dudley said less than 10% of the San Joaquin Valley was covered by fog Saturday morning.

But where it did exist, it showed up in patches, blanketing parts of California 99 and possibly surprising drivers not expecting fog, he said.


“That’s probably the most dangerous kind of fog,” Dudley said. “Vehicles cruising on the 99 that had been in the clear for a while suddenly run into this wall of fog, with visibility down to a few hundred feet or less. And suddenly, they’re crashing into each other.”

The thick fog that hangs over the Central Valley in the late fall and winter is known as tule fog, which coincides with cooler and rainy weather. It is caused when low temperatures cause ground moisture to condense overnight, creating low visibility.

Thunderstorms Monday increased the ground moisture in the area.

According to a National Weather Service website, visibility in tule fog is often less than 600 feet and can suddenly decrease to near zero.

Dudley advised motorists in the Central Valley to be especially alert when driving at night through the midmorning hours, when patchy fog can suddenly appear.