Everyone in Bakersfield knows that Interstate 5 is a fast-moving maze of passenger vehicles and 18-wheelers. The big rigs hauling goods to and from Southern California's cities and farms are important to the economy, but they are also the most dangerous vehicles on the roads, as a recent tragedy near Gorman showed.
A minivan was initially involved in what was called a minor accident on the interstate and then came to a stop, partially in the right-hand lane. That was when an 18-wheeler slammed into the van, sending it down an embankment, where it caught fire. Trapped in the back seats of the van were two mothers and four children; all six perished in the flames.
The two fathers were in the front driver's and passenger's seats, a California Highway Patrol officer said. The men, ages 34 and 45, suffered burns as they tried to save the women and children.
The officer said the fatal crash is being investigated. He said the impact of the truck on the back of the van would have been so severe that it might have killed some of the occupants before the blaze even began. He said the impact made it impossible for escape through the sliding door on the driver side, but that the men were able to get out of the vehicle on the passenger side.
"By the time they were able to open that door the flames were already overtaking the vehicle," the officer said. The women and kids could not be saved.
CHP officers arrived on the scene as the van burst into flames and then held the men back from frantic, futile efforts to save their loved ones.
"It's absolutely horrible," the officer said. "I can't imagine."
We do not know yet why the truck was unable to slow or maneuver around the van. But we do know that occupants of passenger vehicles are statistically much more likely to suffer injuries and fatalities than occupants of the much larger rigs.
Those who have been injured or who have lost a loved one in a crash involving a tractor-trailer can speak with a Bakersfield attorney experienced in personal injury and wrongful death litigation about pursuit of maximum compensation for damages.