A rollover on Austin Road south of Moffat Boulevard Tuesday afternoon caused traumatic injuries to three passengers, critically injured one and sent all 10 occupants of the 1998 Ford Expedition to five different hospitals.
The first firefighters to pull up to the scene at 5:20 p.m. said it looked like a staged Every 15 Minutes (E-15) program they held at the area high schools prior to graduation. The vehicle was upside down and bodies were scattered all over the roadway, evenly divided between boys and girls, they reported.
Firefighters carried the injured into the shade of a nearby almond orchard awaiting ambulances and other emergency personnel. The initial police 911 call reportedly came in as a minor injury four-car accident at the location a half mile south of Highway 99 and Moffat Boulevard. No other vehicle was involved, police said.
Battalion Chief Kyle Shipherd said none of the 10 were wearing seatbelts at the time of the crash. They range in age from 13 to the low 20s. They had been swimming in the Stanislaus River near Caswell Park at the end of Austin Road in Ripon. They were reportedly all from the Manteca and Stockton areas.
Shipherd said six ambulances responded to the scene from Ripon, Manteca, Tracy and Stockton. He listed the injured as one critical, three with major injuries and three ejections from the vehicle. All the rest had injuries to a lesser degree. Two air ambulance helicopters were requested to respond to the scene but were reported as being unavailable – possibly because of the hot conditions that diminish their lift capacities.
The victims of the crash were taken to Doctors Medical Center in Modesto, Memorial Hospital in Modesto, Kaiser in Manteca, San Joaquin County Hospital in French Camp and St. Joseph’s Hospital in Stockton.
The driver of the 1998 Ford Expedition told investigators he had leaned over to put on his seat belt when the vehicle began to fishtail and he lost control. A sequence of skid marks and gouges from the wheels could be seen in the pavement for over 150 feet in both lanes of travel that showed the path of the van’s trajectory.
Manteca Police Sergeant Mike Sexon said one of the injured passengers, Justice Pantoja, 18, of Manteca, was arrested at the county hospital as he was being treated for his lacerations. Pantoja had allegedly given a CHP officer a fictitious identification, however he was recognized at the hospital as a wanted suspect in an attempted murder last month with a $150,000 warrant out for his arrest. Detectives from Manteca’s Street Crimes Unit drove to the French Camp hospital and took the man into custody.
At 10 p.m. last night Pantoja was being interviewed by officers at the Manteca Police Department about his involvement in one of four drive-by shootings that occurred June 8 in the 1800 block of Pecanwood Avenue in the north central part of Manteca. Charges against him included being a felon in possession of a firearm and a gang violation, police said.
Firefighters rescued the 13-year-old girl who was trapped on the roadway beneath the roof of the vehicle. She had been ejected when the vehicle flipped end over end after its last roll, Chief Shipherd said. Firefighters used balloon lifts to free the girl.
Four CHP units responded to the scene along with two Manteca police units, learning that the area had recently been incorporated into the City of Manteca that left the investigation to Manteca officers. The roadway was expected to be closed for up to six hours while the (MAIT) Major Accident Investigation Team was called out to the scene of the crash.
A number of stalled south bound vehicles traveling on Austin road – including cars and large trucks – had to be turned around near the scene because of the ongoing investigation.