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Massive Pileup Closes California Freeway

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GARANCE BURKE | November 4, 2007 07:42 AM EST | AP

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FRESNO, Calif. — More than 100 cars and trucks crashed on a fog-shrouded freeway Saturday, killing at least two people and injuring dozens more, the California Highway Patrol said.

Eighteen big rigs were involved in the massive pileup on Highway 99 just south of Fresno as patches of dense fog obscured visibility on the heavily traveled roadway, CHP officials said.

"It looked like something out of a movie, walking up and seeing all the cars mangled and crushed," CHP Officer Paul Solorzano Jr. said.

A 5-year-old boy and a 26-year-old man traveling in separate vehicles were killed in the chain-reaction collisions around 7:45 a.m., he said.

Morris Taylor, 61, of San Antonio, was arrested Saturday on a misdemeanor drunken driving charge, said CHP Officer Kirk Arnold.

"He has not been said to have been the cause of (the crash), he is just a person who was involved in the collision who was taken in for DUI," Arnold said.

"There was probably 2-foot visibility in the fog when I got here. It was really bad," said Mike Bowman, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "It looked like chaos. Cars were backed up on top of each other."

Rescuers had to extract several people from the wreckage, and paramedics took more than three dozen patients to the hospital with injuries, Fresno Fire Department spokesman Ken Shockley said.

"Everybody was trying to miss everybody, but it was impossible not to get hit," said Cindy Ramirez, 21, of Selma, whose purple Mazda pickup truck was rear-ended. "I'm fine physically, but I keep thinking about all of the things that could have happened."

Hours after the accident, the freeway was littered with smashed cars and trucks, broken glass, auto parts and blood. A big rig carrying stacked crates of live turkeys was stranded on the normally busy highway.

Two of the big rigs leaked 90 gallons of diesel fuel onto the freeway when their fuel tanks ruptured, but the diesel was contained. No hazardous materials were spilled, CHP officials said.

Crash victims gathered on the freeway shoulder near the wreckage, waiting to be interviewed by investigators.

Omar Macias, 33, was hauling asphalt from Bakersfield to Elk Grove when his truck was caught in the pileup.

"I got out to check on people at first, and then I heard more crashes around me, so I got right back in," said Macias of Bakersfield. "I feel OK, but I don't what OK means right now. People got hurt."

The freeway's northbound lanes were shut down indefinitely as investigators worked to determine the cause of the crash. Traffic backed up for miles south of the wreckage. Southbound lanes remained opened.

Thick seasonal fog known as "Tule fog" typically occurs in Central California in the late fall and winter. Two people died along a nearby stretch of fog-blanketed Highway 99 in an 87-vehicle pileup in 2002, and another section of the roadway several miles south was the scene of a 74-vehicle crash that left two dead nearly a decade ago.

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Associated Press writer Marcus Wohlsen contributed to this report from San Francisco.