MOUNTAIN CENTER: SUV trying to pass vehicles smashes head-on into commercial truck

MOUNTAIN CENTER — Two people were seriously injured – one critically – Saturday evening, when the driver of an SUV reportedly attempted to pass another vehicle on a winding mountain road and plowed head-on into an oncoming commercial vehicle. Firefighters spent nearly two hours cutting the victims from the wrecked SUV after the accident, which happened on Highway 74 near Mountain Center, in the San Jacinto Mountains, east of Hemet.

Two victims were seriously injured after their SUV plowed head-on into a large, commercial truck Saturday night. John Strangis photo

California Highway Patrol, Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire and other emergency first responders were dispatched to the scene of the wreck shortly after 7 p.m., after receiving multiple reports of the collision.

Firefighters from four engine companies responded to the scene of the accident, Riverside County Fire spokesperson Jody Hagemann explained in an incident report.

According to a CHP incident log, 911 callers told dispatchers the silver SUV and truck smashed head-on when the SUV crossed into the opposing lane of traffic while attempting to pass a slower moving vehicle. Callers advised that after the collision the SUV plowed into the side of the mountain and that both occupants were trapped inside the destroyed vehicle.

When officials arrived they found a heavily damaged SUV with its front-end against the side of the mountain. A black, 30-foot, box truck with moderate front-end damage was stopped at a nearby overlook pullout. It was not known if the box truck was being used commercially or was privately owned.

Officials quickly confirmed the two occupants from the SUV were trapped inside the mangled wreckage of the vehicle and needed to be cut free from their wrecked SUV. Firefighters used the “Jaws of Life” to cut away several of the SUV’s doors and by 8:45 p.m., Newman updated that firefighters had extricated both the driver and passenger from the vehicle. Both sustained serious injuries and at least one of the victim’s was in critical condition, according to a CHP officer at the scene.

American Medical Response medics transported one of the victims by ground ambulance to an area hospital. The other victim was airlifted by REACH Air Ambulance to an area trauma center. Their conditions have not been updated.

An SUV hit a commercial truck head-on while traveling on a winding mountain section of SR 74 near Mountain Center. John Strangis photo

The driver of the box truck was not reportedly injured. He remained at the scene of the crash and was cooperating with CHP’s investigation.

While firefighters worked to free the victims from the SUV and medics evaluated the other driver, CHP officers investigated the cause of the crash.

During their investigation officers interviewed other motorists and witnesses who said the SUV had been passing other vehicle, in spite of posted “no passing” and “icy road” signs. Officials were still working to determine how fast the SUV was traveling at the time of the collision.

While officials worked at the scene, they called for the temporary closure of both directions of travel on Highway 74, forcing travelers to have to seek an alternative route to their destinations, in some cases adding hours to their travel times.

Both vehicles were later towed from the scene and the cause of the accident is still under investigation.

Anyone with information regarding the crash or who witnessed the collision is encouraged to contact CHP’s San Gorgonio Area Station at (951) 769-2000.

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Trevor Montgomery, who recently moved from Riverside County to Shasta County, runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for Riverside County based newspapers Valley News, The Valley Chronicle and Anza Valley Outlook as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County.

Trevor spent 10 years in the U.S. Army as an Orthopedic Specialist before joining the Riverside County Sheriff’s Department in 1998. He was medically retired after losing his leg, breaking his back and suffering both spinal cord and brain injuries in an off-duty accident.

During his time with the sheriff’s department, Trevor worked at several different stations, including Robert Presley Detention Center, Southwest Station in Temecula, Hemet/Valle Vista Station, Ben Clark Public Safety Training Center and Lake Elsinore Station, along with other locations.

Trevor’s assignments included Corrections, Patrol, DUI Enforcement, Boat and Personal Water-Craft based Lake Patrol, Off-Road Vehicle Enforcement, Problem Oriented Policing Team and Personnel/Background Investigations. He finished his career while working as a Sex Crimes and Child Abuse Investigator and was a court-designated expert in child abuse and child sex-related crimes.

Trevor has been married for more than 27 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and has 13 children and 14 grandchildren.