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Galt driver faces prosecution for fatal tanker fire

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POSTED September 5, 2013 1:06 a.m.

Jaime H. Portillo,  29, of Galt is being charged with manslaughter in the fiery fatal crash Saturday afternoon  north of Escalon on Mariposa Road that claimed the life of the 43-year-old Modesto driver of a 2013 Peterbilt propane tanker that spread its 8,000 gallon load over 1,000 feet of roadway following a three-vehicle collision.

The CHP said David A. Costa, 58, a Ripon almond farmer, was driving a 1997 International truck and was uninjured in the crash. Portillo, driving a 1993 International, received minor injuries but was not hospitalized, according to the report.

The Modesto tanker victim was transported to U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento where he died from the result of his injuries, the CHP said.

Highway Patrol spokesman Officer James Smith said Portillo had been driving westbound on Mariposa Road, east of Dodds Road at approximately 40 miles an hour.  Costa was driving his 1997 International on Mariposa Road westbound, east of Dodds Road ahead of Portillo and was stopped waiting to make a legal left hand turn.

The deceased tanker driver was reportedly driving his 2013 Peterbilt on Mariposa Road eastbound at an unknown speed approaching the other two vehicles.  Portillo allegedly made an unsafe turning movement to the left and into the eastbound lane of travel, causing a collision with the left side of the tanker.   As a result of that collision Portillo’s truck reverted back to the right and crashed into the left side of the Ripon farmer’s vehicle, according to the report. 

The Modesto truck’s fuel tank ruptured as a result and ignited in flames with the Galt truck coming to rest in the middle of Mariposa Road partially blocking both east and westbound lanes.  The tanker continued eastbound, spilling burning fuel, until coming to rest on the south shoulder of Mariposa Road. 

The report further noted that the ruptured tank caused some 1,000 feet of roadway to be burned as well as personal property adjacent to the south shoulder.  Witnesses at the scene assisted the tanker driver from his cab as the truck was being incinerated by the flames with smoke that could be seen as far away as Turlock.

Officers arriving on the scene assisted residents in evacuating their homes that were being threatened by the intense heat of the blaze.  A joint fire department strike team of five engines from Lathrop, Manteca, Farmington and Collegeville, returning from the Rim Fire on Saturday, responded to the plume of black smoke and offered their mutual-aid effort in attacking residual fires caused by the spread of fuel in the area, taking over three hours to completely extinguish.

The added resources of the strike team allowed firefighters to attack the blaze from both sides of the truck, as well as in people’s yards and over two acres of vegetation fires.

Alcohol or drugs is not being considered a factor in the cause of the collision, the CHP said.  The investigation is ongoing, Officer Smith reported.

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