UPDATE 5:08 p.m.: California Highway Patrol press release:

On Monday, December 22, 2014 a collision occurred on Highway 101 near Benbow. The driver of the SUV that collided with the semi-truck died from injuries received in that collision. He has been identified as Steven Ray Castillo, age 47 years, of Leggett. 

The Redway office of the California Highway Patrol is investigating of the collision.


Original post:

Smoke from the Mercury Mountaineer burning on the left merges with smoke from the burning semi on the right. [Photo by Talia Rose.]

California Highway Patrol press release:

On December 22, 2014, at approximately 1017 hours, a Mercury Mountaineer, driven by a 47 year old male, was traveling south on US-101, north of Benbow.  A Freightliner semi-truck, driven by 49 year old Cynthia Valencia, was traveling northbound on US-101 within the northbound number two lane. For reasons still under investigation, the Mercury drifted into northbound lanes of US-101.  The semi-truck driver took evasive action and merged into the #3 northbound lane to try to avoid a collision.  The Mercury continued to the east and collided with the side of the semi-truck in the #3 northbound lane of US-101.  As a result of the collision, both the Mercury and the semi-truck caught fire.

Both the driver of the semi-truck and the driver of the Mercury were transported to Jerold Phelps Community Hospital in Garberville.  The driver of the Mercury quickly succumbed to his injuries.  The driver of the semi-truck sustained minor injuries from the collision.

The identity of the deceased is currently being withheld pending notification of next of kin.

The driver of the semi-truck is not suspected of driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol.  At this time, it is unknown whether the driver of the Mercury was under the influence.

At this time it is under investigation if the driver of the Mercury was wearing his seatbelt.

California Highway Patrol, Humboldt County Sheriff, Cal-Fire, Garberville Volunteer Fire, City Ambulance of Eureka, and Cal-Trans personnel all responded to the scene.

This collision remains under investigation by the California Highway Patrol - Garberville Area.