SAN FRANCISCO (NYTIMES) – Nine people – including seven who were described by authorities as juveniles – were killed in a fiery head-on crash between an SUV and a pickup in Fresno County, California, on Friday (Jan 1), the California Highway Patrol said.
The authorities have not released the names of the victims, and the Highway Patrol said it was working with the Fresno County Coroner’s Office to determine whether alcohol or drugs might have played a role in the crash.
The collision happened at about 8pm local time on State Route 33, near the Fresno County-Kings County line, when the SUV driven by a 28-year-old man from Avenal, California, was traveling southbound at an unknown speed, the Highway Patrol said.
As the driver approached a pickup carrying eight people that was travleling in the opposite direction, he veered onto the dirt shoulder, lost control and travelled back across the centerline, slamming head-on into the pickup, the Highway Patrol said.
The pickup “became fully engulfed in flames”, and all eight occupants were killed, including seven people who “appeared to be juveniles”, Captain Kevin Clays of the California Highway Patrol said at a news conference.
The driver of the SUV was also killed, he said.
It was not immediately clear if the seven young victims were children or teenagers. Capt Clays said the authorities were working to determine the victims’ ages.
The pickup was equipped with only six seat belts, Capt Clays said.
He noted that when people are not buckled up, the chances that they will suffer serious injuries in a crash are “far greater”.
He said the officers who responded to the collision had been offered counselling.
“It’s tragic for the community,” he said. “It’s tragic for our officers that respond to these incidents.”