Jul 26, 2011 8:23 PM by Ariel Wesler

Fiery crash stops traffic on Highway 101 in Santa Maria

Moving day turned into a nightmare for a local man when his rental truck rolled over and caught fire this morning shutting down all Northbound lanes of Highway 101 in Santa Maria. It happened after 9:30 between Betteravia and Stowell.

It's kind of a complex chain of events. The CHP says it all started when the drivers of two cars directly in front of the truck suddenly hit their brakes. One of them fish tailed, clipping the budget truck as it tried to pass and avoid the vehicles.

"We don't have any injuries in this collision, which is just absolutely amazing," said CHP Officer Rob Wallace.

The fiery crash brought traffic to a standstill in Santa Maria. The truck driver, 32-year-old Jamie Guerra, says he tried to pass the Toyota minivan in front of him when it fishtailed and clipped his truck.

"Next thing I knew, I was rolling just sliding and I thought hold on," Guerra said.

He climbed out the window and quickly realized his truck was on fire. As fuel flowed from the ruptured gas tank, firefighters faced big challenges.

"Fuel was floating on top of the water that was being used to suppress the fire. We used foam to suppress that and contain that problem," said Battalion Chief Alan Widling with Santa Maria Fire.

At last, fire crews brought the truck to its feet and tried to salvage what they could. Guerra was moving from Santa Barbara to San Luis Obispo. His girlfriend had a head start, but came back. Amid all the chaos, they shared a brief hug as Guerra's charred belongings were spread out across lanes of traffic.

"I'm really lucky that everything's fine with me and life can go on. I mean, it's definitely not a world of things, but it's all we have," he said.

Meanwhile, officers are searching for a third driver they say may have been riving erratically, caused the crash, and took off.

As bad as this crash looked, officers say everyone was wearing seatbelts and that's what made the difference.

All lanes reopened shortly after 12:30.


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