Driver in Fresno County crash that killed 9 was drunk, report says

Three highway patrol officers stand at a lectern with the CHP logo in front of microphones
California Highway Patrol Capt. Kevin Clays, center, speaks at a Jan. 2 news conference about a fiery crash that killed nine people on Highway 33 one day earlier.
(Eric Paul Zamora / Fresno Bee)

The driver of an SUV involved in a Central California crash that killed nine, including seven children, was drunk and didn’t have a license, federal investigators said Thursday in a preliminary report.

The children, who were between 6 and 15 years old, were members of two related families traveling with a 34-year-old woman in a Ford F-150 pickup that was struck by a Dodge Journey SUV on New Year’s Day along rural Highway 33 in Fresno County.

The preliminary report by the National Transportation Safety Board says the 28-year-old driver of the Dodge had a blood-alcohol level more than double the state’s legal limit. He did not have a driver’s license, the report said.

Both drivers had marijuana cannabinoids in their systems, according to the report.

The cause of the head-on crash remains under investigation by the NTSB and the California Highway Patrol.


“The NTSB is awaiting the results of further toxicology testing for both drivers and will evaluate the potential role of alcohol and drug impairment in this crash. Medical and human performance evaluations will also examine whether driver fatigue, distraction, or medical conditions were factors in the crash,” the preliminary report said.

The Dodge was traveling southbound on the highway when it veered onto the dirt shoulder for an unknown reason, investigators said. The driver then overcorrected and swerved into the southbound lane, where it struck the Ford.

The Ford burst into flames on the dirt shoulder, while the Dodge came to a stop straddling both lanes of the highway, according to investigators.

Officials said at the time that weather or other road conditions did not appear to be a factor.