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VENTURA COUNTY NEWS

Crash Kills Ojai Man, Closes Freeway

Weather: A pickup truck slides under a tractor-trailer that had crossed into his lane on the rain-slick 101. A second big rig overturns.

March 09, 2000|CATHERINE BLAKE | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Showers early Wednesday contributed to 42 accidents on county highways, including one in which an Ojai man died in a collision involving two big rigs and a pickup truck that shut part of the Ventura Freeway for more than seven hours.

Michael Edwin Torrey, 39, was killed instantly about 5:30 a.m. when his car slid under a two-trailer semitruck south of Vineyard Avenue in Oxnard, CHP Officer Dave Webb said.

The truck, driven by Pablo Solario, 44, of Los Angeles, crossed from the southbound lanes through 40 feet of dirt center divider and into the northbound lanes where it was hit by Torrey's Ford Ranger pickup, Webb said.

Another tractor-trailer swerved to avoid the collision, but smashed into Solario's truck and flipped on its side, spilling the contents--mostly trees and other recyclable material--across the freeway, Webb said.

Driver Martin Martello, 37, of Oxnard was treated for minor injuries at St. John's Regional Medical Center in Oxnard and released.

The freeway's northbound lanes were closed until lunchtime as crews cleaned up debris and 300 gallons of diesel fuel spilled across the freeway, according to the California Highway Patrol.

Five hours after the accident, Solario was still near his wrecked big rig, holding an ice pack to his head. The driver, who works for Red Wing Transportation, declined to comment.

Webb said investigators were still trying to determine why Solario's vehicle skidded across the freeway.

"The only thing he said was that he felt something funny and lost control," Webb said. "He said he felt something get hot or there was a bump in the road, but he does not know what happened."

Webb said the 42 accidents recorded between 4 a.m. and 2 p.m. on the roadways monitored by the CHP were at least partially the result of rain, which was heavy enough to push some areas beyond their seasonal rainfall averages. During that 10-hour period, there would normally be no more than 15 accidents, he said.

"In the rain they are usually driving too fast and they don't leave enough of a space cushion and follow too close," he said. "It only takes one guy going too fast and boom, they pile up."

Webb said another problem is hydroplaning, when a motorist applies the brakes but the vehicle slides across a thin sheet of moisture.

Although rain was heavy in Wednesday's early hours, National Weather Service specialist Stuart Seto in Oxnard said there was less water during this storm than during last week's storms.

From about 3 a.m. until 10 a.m. when the storm blew out of Ventura County, Santa Paula Creek in Santa Paula received 1.38 inches, Oxnard got 0.7 inches of rain, Camarillo received 0.47 inches, Thousand Oaks got 0.55 and Simi Valley got 0.36.

But that was enough to surpass seasonal levels in Oxnard, Port Hueneme and the mountainous regions of the county, including Upper Ojai and at Casitas and Matilija dams.

The rain came from the north Pacific and then moved in a northeasterly direction, Seto said.

It should be partly cloudy the next few days and into the weekend with a 30% chance of showers this morning. There is no additional rain expected through the weekend.

Bob Pinkerton, president of the Ventura County Farm Bureau, said the frequent rains have made it difficult to pick vegetables and strawberries because the ground is so muddy. He also said Wednesday that having berries sitting on wet ground increases the likelihood of mold. He added that citrus fruits are also on the verge of molding.

"The lemons have been damp for enough time now that they are starting to show brown rot, which is a mold-type of thing," he said. "We can't spray a fungicide, because the ground is too wet to get the spray rigs in."

Pinkerton said that if the sun comes out the fruit will dry out and there will be no need for concern.

"The good thing so far has been that the rain has come steadily, so we have not had significant runoff or flooding."

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

County Rainfall

Here are rainfall figures from the Ventura County Flood Control Division for the 24-hour period ending at 8 a.m. Wednesday. Oct. 1 is the beginning of the official rain year.

*--*

Rainfall Rainfall Normal rainfall Location last 24 hours since Oct. 1 to date Camarillo 0.45 9.58 10.10 Casitas Dam 1.19 19.53 18.01 Casitas Rec. Center 1.20 17.95 18.20 Fillmore 0.70 13.16 14.60 Matilija Dam 1.45 21.93 20.68 Moorpark 0.15 9.29 11.11 Ojai 0.76 15.85 16.33 Upper Ojai 0.78 17.98 17.76 Oxnard 0.45 11.25 11.14 Piru 0.51 11.07 13.03 Port Hueneme 0.61 10.93 10.87 Santa Paula 0.58 12.51 13.70 Simi Valley 0.15 9.88 10.79 Thousand Oaks 0.10 8.63 11.63 Ventura Govt. Center 0.82 14.12 12.35

*--*

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