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Man killed in Cuesta Grade crash is believed to work at Villa Automotive

An autopsy has tentatively identified the 41-year-old Grover Beach man who died in a fiery head-on crash Monday on the Cuesta Grade, but authorities are not yet disclosing his name.

The Coroner’s Office performed the autopsy Wednesday. But the coroner will not confirm the identity until it receives a confirmation using dental records, which will take up to 10 days.

John Villa, president of Villa Automotive, an auto repair business in San Luis Obispo, believes employee Jesse Landeros — also named in public records as Jesus Landeros Valenzuela — died in the crash.

Villa noted that a Sheriff’s Department official told him that investigators believe it was him. Moreover, Villa said, Landeros — a well-respected employee — has not returned to work since Monday.

Sheriff’s Department spokesman Rob Bryn could not confirm the information given by Villa, saying that the body was burned beyond recognition and only dental records can confirm the identity.

The Sheriff’s Department notified the deceased man’s family Monday based on identification in his wallet at the site of the crash.

Landeros checked into work at Villa Automotive at 7:45 a.m. Monday, and employees were not aware that he had left work later that morning, said Villa, who declined to provide further comment about Landeros’ activities.

According to authorities, the 41-year-old was driving the wrong way — headed south toward oncoming northbound traffic about a half-mile north of Stagecoach Road — when the 2010 Chrysler Sebring he was driving hit a big-rig truck on the Cuesta Grade.

“He was a great employee. He took pride in his work and will be hard to replace,” Villa said. He added that Landeros left behind a family with two daughters.

Villa Automotive employee Lee Bragg said that workers at the auto shop believe Landeros died in the crash. Another employee said Landeros was well-liked. Employees declined to comment further.

CHP public information officer J.W. Townsen said that the Sebring was an Enterprise rental car, though he could not say at what location the car was rented. A representative for Enterprise would not comment.

Villa said that the automotive shop services Enterprise rental cars; however, he said that the Sebring involved in the crash was not being worked on in the shop that day because it was not in the shop’s database.

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

Townsen said that the investigation is ongoing, and the CHP will outline results when the investigation is complete. Townsen could not predict how long that would take, as witnesses continue to come forward with leads.

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