Teens “lucky to be alive” after Hwy 79 head-on DUI crash

WINCHESTER — Witnesses say two teens are lucky to be alive after the pair were involved in a head-on crash with a repo truck towing a third vehicle in the unincorporated community of Winchester last night. The tremendous impact ripped the entire front of the teens’ sedan off and sheared the motor from the car – launching both the heavy engine and part of the car’s transmission far into a nearby field.

The driver of the tow truck was reportedly uninjured and the two teen occupants were both hospitalized with minor injuries after the collision, which happened on Winchester Rd. near 9th St., along a sweeping “S” curve along the otherwise mostly straight highway that connects the Temecula and San Jacinto Valleys.


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CHP, Riverside County Sheriff’s Department, Cal Fire/Riverside County Fire, and other emergency personnel, were dispatched to the scene of the crash around 8:30 p.m., after receiving multiple reports of a head-on collision. 911 callers reported a small passenger vehicle had slammed nearly head-on into a tow truck pulling another vehicle. Callers also reported seeing smoke and a possible fire burning in a field adjacent the scene of the crash.

A Mazda was left all but unrecognizable after a suspected DUI collision involving a 16-year-old girl and another teen. Alex Cruz/Inland Empire News Network photo

When officials arrived they found a black, self-loading, Ford wrecker with attached Ford Mustang along the side of the highway and a silver Mazda sedan in a dirt field, about 40 feet off the road. Vehicle parts and debris were spread across more than 100 yards of highway, leaving the two-lane road blocked in both directions.

Both of the primary vehicles involved in the crash had sustained heavy front-end damage and could no longer be driven. It was not immediately known if the just-repossessed Mustang was damaged in the collision, but all three vehicles were later towed from the scene.

According to witnesses, a 16-year-old girl was identified as the driver of the nearly unrecognizable Mazda, which had been traveling southbound on Hwy. 79.

According to the tow truck driver and other motorists who witnessed the crash, the young driver appeared to lose control while driving through a series of curves in the road. The sedan drifted into the oncoming lane and smashed nearly head-on into the northbound Ford tow truck.

The impact ripped away most of the Mazda’s front-end, engine, and transmission, and sent the car careening into the dirt field where both it and the engine and other vehicle debris eventually came to rest.

The collision destroyed the entire front-end of the tow truck and ripped away the rig’s front left front wheel and entire driver’s side suspension.

Both occupants from the destroyed Mazda were transported by ground ambulances to an area hospital with what were described as minor injuries. Their current conditions were not immediately available.

While officers investigated the cause of the crash they called for the temporary closure of SR-79 in both directions. The roadway was reopened after the wrecked vehicles had been towed from the scene and officials finished their initial on-scene investigation.

A car’s engine and part of its transmission were sheared from the front of the destroyed Mazda and ended up in a field near the scene of the wreck. Alex Cruz/Inland Empire News Network photo

The driver of the tow truck and other witnesses at the scene of the crash later reported that the Mazda driver and her companion both appeared intoxicated. Several witnesses who later spoke about the crash agreed the pair was fortunate not to have suffered more substantial injuries in what many agreed should have been a fatal collision.

“Nobody should have survived that crash. They just have no idea how lucky they are to still be alive,” French Valley resident Noemi Ortiz said after witnessing the collision.

“I just don’t understand this epidemic of drunk driving that’s running rampant in our valley and throughout the entire county,” Ortiz, who said she is mother of two teens of her own, continued. “It seems like no mater how many DUI crashes we cried about yesterday or have to suffer through today, we can always count on more DUI’s tomorrow.”

“When will it end? How many more people have to die?” the concerned mom asked.

Although witnesses stated the occupants from the Mazda appeared to be intoxicated, CHP is still working to determine whether the driver was under the influence at the time of the collision.

CHP has not yet released any information about their investigation, which is ongoing.

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Trevor Montgomery, 47, recently moved to the Intermountain area of Shasta County from Riverside County and runs Riverside County News Source and Shasta County News Source. Additionally, he writes for several other news organizations; including Riverside County based newspapers, Valley News, The Valley Chronicle, and Anza Valley Outlook; as well as Bonsall/Fallbrook Village News in San Diego County and Mountain Echo in Shasta 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. (Click here to see segment of Discovery Channel documentary of Trevor’s 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 28 years and was a foster parent to more than 60 children over 13 years. He is now an adoptive parent and his “fluid family” includes 13 children and 14 – but soon to be 16 – grandchildren.