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September 28, 2022

Update: Traffic fatalities include four family members, Hollister man

Both crashes occurred on Highway 156 in San Benito County

Traffic accidents in San Benito County took the lives of five people on Sunday—including a mother and three children whose sedan collided with a big-rig truck on Highway 156, according to sources.

About 8:05pm Aug. 14, a 2014 Tesla, driven by a 55-year-old woman, was traveling eastbound on Highway 156, west of Fairview Road in northern San Benito County, according to the California Highway Patrol. A 2015 Freightliner, driven by a 39-year-old Madera woman, was traveling westbound on Highway 156 in the same area.

For unknown reasons, the Tesla driver “made a left turning movement” across a double yellow line into the westbound lane of Highway 156—into the path of the Freightliner, according to the CHP. The Tesla collided with the front of the tractor-trailer.

The collision resulted in fatal injuries to all four people who were traveling in the Tesla, authorities said.

The San Benito County Sheriff-Coroner’s office is still working on identifying the four victims, who are listed in the CHP report as Carmel Valley residents.

According to numerous sources, the Tesla was occupied by a woman and her three children. The children were students at Carmel Middle School. The Carmel Unified School District on Aug. 15 sent a letter to students and parents about the accident.

“It is with deep sadness that we inform you about a recent loss to our school community,” reads the letter. “Last night, August 14, 2022, Lucy, Leigh and Ben Biakanja, along with their mother, passed away in a car accident. They were all enrolled in Carmel Middle School and attended Tularcitos before joining CMS.”

“This loss is sure to raise many emotions, concerns and questions for our entire school, especially our students,” the letter continues. “We shared this information with our CMS staff and then students in their classrooms. Mental health professionals recommend providing as much of a normal routine as possible when children receive this type of traumatic news.”

San Benito County Sgt. Coroner Bryan Penney said his office has enlisted the help of the Santa Clara County Medical Examiner’s Office in formally identifying the four collision victims, using fingerprints and dental records.

The driver of the Freightliner was transported to Hazel Hawkins Memorial Hospital with minor injuries following the Aug. 14 collision, says the press release.

Investigators do not yet know if alcohol or drugs were a factor in the crash, police said.

Chevrolet catches fire in single-vehicle crash

That collision was the second fatal incident that CHP officers, firefighters and paramedics responded to on Aug. 14.

At about 12:50am, a 27-year-old Hollister man was driving a 2005 Chevrolet on Highway 156 in San Benito County when the vehicle ran off the road and caught on fire, says a press release from the CHP. The Chevrolet had been traveling westbound on Highway 156, east of Buena Vista Road when the accident happened. 

For an unknown reason, the vehicle veered to the right, off the north edge of Highway 156, police said. The car collided with a private property fence, overturned and caught on fire. 

The driver was ejected from the vehicle and died of injuries suffered as a result of the crash, according to the CHP.

The Chevrolet driver has been identified as Hollister resident David Herrera, Penney said. Initial reports suggested Herrera was from Gilroy.

Authorities do not know if alcohol or drugs were a factor in the collision. 

Any witnesses or anyone with information about these collisions can call the CHP Hollister-Gilroy Office at 408.848.2324.

Firefighters and paramedics are pictured at the scene of a single-vehicle accident that took the life of David Herrera early in the morning Aug. 14. Photo: Chris Mora
Staff Report
A staff member edited this provided article.

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