UPDATED: Traffic accident ignites grass fire

Police briefs

A big-rig truck burst into flames after colliding with a Mitsubishi, igniting a grass fire that forced a 3.5-hour closure of U.S. 101 in San Benito County Tuesday morning, authorities said. 

The accident happened on Highway 129, just west of U.S. 101 about 12:10 p.m. Tuesday, according to a press release from California Highway Patrol Officer Tran. 

The 2003 Mitsubishi was traveling eastbound on Highway 129 at an unknown speed, and the 2007 Freightliner big-rig was traveling westbound, police said. The driver of the big-rig told officers he was traveling about 45 mph. 

As the two vehicles approached each other, one of them crossed the double yellow line resulting in a head-on collision, police said. 

The Mitsubishi came to rest on the right shoulder of the highway, partially blocking the eastbound lane, police said. The 21-year-old driver, an Aromas resident, was trapped inside the vehicle and was extricated by personnel from the Hollister Fire Department and the San Benito County Fire Department. He was airlifted to San Jose Regional Hospital with major injuries. 

The 2007 Freightliner careered out of control after the collision, and hit the metal guardrail and fell down a 41-foot dirt embankment off the right shoulder of westbound Highway 129, police said. The 37-year-old driver from Hanford was able to exit the vehicle “just seconds” before it became fully engulfed in flames. The driver reported minor injuries to paramedics. 

The resulting fire spread to surrounding vegetation, and area fire departments responded to extinguish the flames, authorities said. 

The aftermath of the collision, grass fire and cleanup of diesel fuel on the roadway closed U.S. 101 to traffic for about 3.5 hours, police said. 

The cause of the accident is still under investigation, and alcohol was not a factor, police said. 

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