By AMY LINDBLOM
A former Sonora woman has been charged with vehicular manslaughter after a Merced big-rig truck driver died July 3, 2002, in a fiery crash at highways 108 and 120.
California Highway Patrol investigators say Pamela Suzanne Short, 41, falsified driving reports to lead her two employers to believe she had worked fewer hours than she had. But working the extra hours with too few hours off, investigators said, led to her falling asleep or being otherwise inattentive while driving.
And that, they say, contributed to the head-on collision of two big-rigs early in the morning of July 3.
Short turned herself in to the Tuolumne County Jail on Tuesday where she was booked and released after posting $5,000 bail.
Short and Oracio Felix Lara, 30, of Merced, both worked for Teichert Construction, delivering asphalt for a nighttime repaving job east of Twain Harte on Highway 108. They and other truckers would bring loads of asphalt to the site, then turn around and go back to Modesto for more.
Short was heading east on 108 that July morning, her tractor-trailer fully loaded. She drifted over the double yellow line and collided head-on with Lara's big-rig about 2:30 a.m.
The collision caused an explosion, and both rigs were consumed in the fire. Tuolumne County Fire Marshal Kary Hubbard said flames shot 15 to 50 feet into the air, and the glow from the fire was visible from Chicken Ranch Road near Jamestown.
Short was injured and burned, but able to get out of the cab of her truck. She was assisted by a passerby, and later airlifted to a Modesto hospital then to U.C. Davis Medical Center burn unit.
Lara died inside the cab of his truck, a CHP report said.
Richard Roy of Long Barn came upon the accident shortly after it happened.
"Her clothes were smoking and so was her hair," said Richard Roy of Long Barn. "Both trucks were on fire. I don't know how she got out of it."