By JASON ECK
A 54-year-old Murphys man and a 48-year-old Denair man have been tentatively identified as the two who died in a fiery, head-on crash yesterday morning on Highway 4, just west of the Calaveras County line.
The men were both killed when their pickups burst into flames after colliding on Highway 4 east of Dunton Road, about a mile west of the Stanislaus-Calaveras county line, the California Highway Patrol said.
The crash occurred at 6:30 a.m.
The Stanislaus County Coroner's office has not finished the tests that will positively identify both victims, so no names have been released.
A Highway Patrol report said the Murphys man was driving a 1995 Nissan pickup west on a portion of Highway 4 where rolling hills limit visibility.
That stretch of highway is marked with a double yellow line for no passing. The report said he pulled into the eastbound lane to pass another westbound vehicle. He had just crested a hill in the road when his truck collided with the eastbound 1988 Ford F-150 pickup driven by the Denair man. The two trucks collided in the eastbound lane.
Both drivers died at the scene. Neither vehicle had any passengers.
The eastbound lane of Highway 4 was closed for about four hours while emergency crews cleared the wreckage.
CHP Officer Tom Killian said aggressive driving is to blame for the crash. He said the Murphys driver passed on an up-and-down, no-passing stretch of the highway.
Aggressive driving crossing double yellow lines, tailgating, failing to yield the right of way is not new to foothill officers.
In fact, Highway Patrol officers in Calaveras County have worked overtime to target aggressive drivers in recent months, said Lt. Les Quinn, the commander of CHP's San Andreas area office.
In Tuolumne County, the California Highway Patrol and Sonora Police Department are joining forces on an aggressive driving education and enforcement campaign to begin later this spring.
Sixteen people have died in fatal car crashes in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties so far this year.
Yesterday's crash comes three weeks after a two-car accident on Highway 12 between San Andreas and Valley Springs that killed a La Contenta man and his three children.
In Tuolumne County, nine people have died in traffic accidents so far this year, while 22 died on county highways in 2002.
In Calaveras County, the California Highway Patrol saw a four-year low last year in traffic fatalities. Five people died in 2002, compared to a high of 14 in 1999.