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11 Die in Califoria Highway Crash

November 17, 1997

MENDOTA, Calif. (AP) _ A semitrailer and a van full of people believed to be migrant farm workers collided on a foggy highway in central California. Eleven of 12 people in the van were killed.

Truck driver Isaac Silva, who was not seriously hurt, said the van tried to pass another car Sunday morning but did not see his oncoming truck. Silva said he slammed on the brakes but the truck jackknifed and blocked the van’s path.

Among the dead was a 1-year-old girl, and authorities said some of the victims were believed to be related. The only survivor in the van was Dolorez Arriga, who was in stable condition at a hospital.

Gloria Carillo was was on her way to church in Fresno when she stopped at the crash site and found Arriga in the middle of the crushed van. She stayed with him throughout his rescue.

``I was there on the side helping this man, when I started to hear moaning coming from the back of the van, but then it stopped,″ Carillo told The Sacramento Bee. ``I just can’t believe this.″

Art Magallenas, who was driving a truck behind the truck, said the area quickly had become engulfed in fog.

``It was very scary,″ he said. ``You had to put on your brakes very fast.″

Three of the dead _ the baby, driver and front passenger _ were wearing seat belts. But California Highway Patrol spokesman Bill Nation said the belts would have made little difference because of the violence of the collision; it took an hour to get some of the bodies from the wreckage.

``I’ve been doing this for six years and I’ve never had an accident with 11 people that didn’t make it,″ ambulance driver Paul Yocum said.

Several friends told the Bee that most of the van passengers were farm workers originally from El Salvador. Their names were not released.

The crash occurred on a straight stretch of state Highway 180 near the farming town of Mendota, about 160 miles southeast of San Francisco. The fog in the San Joaquin Valley is considered one of the most dangerous in the nation because it can quickly cut visibility to zero.

The crash site is about 30 miles northeast from where a 1991 multiple-car crash killed 17 people and injured scores of others during a severe dust storm.