KINGSBURG, Calif. — The California Highway Patrol was mourning the loss of two officers Monday after their squad car flipped over while responding to a multi-vehicle crash.
The officers were heading southbound to the crash site on state Route 99 near the Central Valley town of Kingsburg, less than 25 miles from Fresno, CHP Capt. Dave Paris said.
The original collision was initially reported on the northbound side of the divided highway, Paris said. But the officers soon discovered that the pre-dawn collision was actually in the southbound lanes of the highway, and one the drivers involved in the accident was on the road, Paris said.
The officer who was driving tried to swerve out of the way.
“Our vehicle lost control and collided into the guardrail,” and the officers died after their vehicle overturned, Paris told reporters. Both officers were wearing seat belts, he said.
The officers, both men, were in the same car because they had been working the graveyard shift, a standard procedure, said officer Axel Reyes, a CHP spokesman. The officers, whose names have not yet been released, are believed to be the first CHP fatalities in the line of duty in the Fresno area in about 16 years, he said.
Fellow CHP captains now have the painful task of notifying the fallen officers’ families in Clovis and Tulare, as other officers deal with the loss of their colleagues.
“It’s draining — a lot of the officers are drained,” Reyes said. “Officers are having a tough time — some more than others.”
The CHP’s accident reconstruction teams remained at the site Monday afternoon to scour for evidence. Skid marks and fluid trails spread out over a couple of hundred feet from the center divider to the shoulder of the highway, Reyes said.
The original crash apparently occurred when a pickup truck driver fell asleep at the wheel and crashed into the center divider, the CHP said. It came to rest in the wrong direction with its lights off, setting off a chain-reaction collision.
“We’re not sure exactly what happened in the first collision, but it appears there were two or three vehicles involved,” Reyes said.