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One person dead after car, semitrailer collide on Cuesta Grade

Northbound traffic on the Cuesta Grade was shut down as the CHP investigated a fatal crash on Jan. 31, 2011.
Northbound traffic on the Cuesta Grade was shut down as the CHP investigated a fatal crash on Jan. 31, 2011. dmiddlecamp@thetribunenews.com

A fiery crash left a 41-year-old Grover Beach man dead and another man injured when a car and semitrailer collided Monday morning on northbound Highway 101.

The South County man was killed when the 2010 Chrysler Sebring rental car he was driving hit the semitrailer on the Cuesta Grade.

According to authorities, he was driving the wrong way — headed southbound toward oncoming northbound traffic about a half-mile north of Stagecoach Road.

“The big question for us is why he came over to the northbound lanes,” CHP Officer Toby Adrianse said.

A 75-yard break in the median separating the north and southbound lanes could have been where the driver crossed from one side of the highway to the other, said Adrianse, adding that investigators were still not sure that is what happened.

The collision occurred about 50 yards south of the separation in the median, he said.

The Sheriff’s Department notified the man’s family Monday based on the identification in his wallet.

However, authorities would not release his name until dental records confirmed his identity, likely today, said sheriff’s spokesman Rob Bryn.

Authorities said that the man did not have any known medical conditions. Suicide had not been ruled out, Adrianse said.

The driver of the truck, Jose Hernandez Estrada, 55, of Santa Maria, was taken to Sierra Vista Regional Medical Center in San Luis Obispo for moderate injuries. He was able to escape the truck, which was hauling automotive products, before it was engulfed in flames.

The collision occurred at a high speed — lodging the Chrysler under the front of the semitrailer. The two vehicles collided in the No. 3 lane — the slow lane — but the impact carried them east to the road’s shoulder.

All northbound lanes were shut down at Monterey Street shortly after the accident occurred at 9:26 a.m. and remained closed for more than two hours. One lane of northbound traffic was reopened by noon, and traffic remained confined to one lane until about 2 p.m. while the investigators cleared the scene.

Authorities are still investigating the cause of the accident and do not know whether drugs or alcohol were involved.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939. Stay updated by following @a_cornejo on Twitter.

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