Family of 6 dies in crash
An allegedly drunk driver caused an accident Saturday that killed six members of an Olivehurst family, authorities said.
Dead are Thomas and Maribel Negrete, both 29; their sons Eric, 3, and Cesar, 6 months; and Maribel Negrete's parents, Maria Veronica De Raya, 63, and Jose Ray Quintana, 65. All six lived on Black Angus Way, said Yuba County Sheriff Virginia Black.
The three-vehicle accident happened at 10:25 p.m. on southbound Highway 70 south of Feather River Boulevard in Linda.
“This is one of the worst nights of my career, 17 years,” said CHP Capt. Scott Silsbee. “I've not seen a lot like this. This is absolutely horrendous.”
CHP spokesman Jeff Larson said that, to the best of his memory, the six fatalities are the most resulting from one accident in the Yuba-Sutter area.
According to the California Highway Patrol, the series of collisions began when a 1996 GMC Suburban driven by 28-year-old Bradley Bledsoe of Linda rear-ended a 1999 Suburban driven by Thomas Negrete, then hit a van driven by a 17-year-old Sunshine Hang of Olivehurst.
The Negrete vehicle went off the west side of the highway and struck a tree sideways. All five passengers were pronounced dead at the scene. Thomas Negrete was taken by air ambulance to Sutter Roseville Medical Center, where he died.
Bledsoe was driving erratically, “using all the lanes,” said CHP Officer Alex Tolmachoff.
Bledsoe and a passenger, who was the registered owner of the vehicle, fled on foot after the accident. The CHP unsuccessfully used night-vision equipment in an attempt to find them.
Hang was not injured even though the van she was driving also hit a tree.
Officers arrested Bledsoe when he showed up about 8 a.m. at his home after spending the night with friends. He was booked into the Yuba County Jail on suspicion of six counts of murder, not vehicular manslaughter, said Larson.
“We're going for straight murder,” said Larson.
Bledsoe is also facing felony charges of driving under the influence and hit-and-run driving. He did not have a driver's license or insurance, said Larson.
Bledsoe's passenger, who was not immediately identified, was arrested at the Linda home of his parents, who initially denied that he was there, said Larson.
A witness, Carrie Hodges of Arboga, said she and her 17-year-old son, Ryan, saw Bledsoe and his passenger leave a bar on B Street in Yuba City and followed them as they careened toward Highway 70 in Marysville, nearly causing more than one accident.
Ryan, who was driving on a learner's permit, was behind the wheel of their Mitsubishi sedan, she said. Hodges said they were close behind the Bledsoe vehicle at the time of the collision and saw everything.
“It was awful, awful,” she said. “Then those guys ran away.”
Hodges said she ran to the demolished Negrete vehicle but was unable to open the driver's door. Thomas Negrete was behind the wheel, moaning.
“I told him please hang in there, help is on the way,” she said.
On Sunday, she learned that everyone in the vehicle had died.
“They killed a family. I can't believe that,” she said.
Witnessing the accident will leave both her and her son with indelible memories, Hodges said.
“Here's a new driver. He's going with mom, and he has to experience someone leaving a bar to the very end of the accident and just watch the whole thing unfold in front of him, like it was out of a movie,” Carrie Hodges said. “He kept saying, ‘This can't be real, Mom.”
If she had it to do over, Hodges said, she simply would have called 911 and insisted that Ryan not follow the Suburban.
But she praised her son, a Lindhurst High School junior, for keeping his cool and giving an accurate eyewitness account to the CHP.
“This has changed my life and my son's,” she said.
CHP investigators kept southbound Highway 70 closed until 7:30 a.m. Sunday.
Appeal-Democrat reporters Rob Young and Harold Kruger can be reached at 741-2400.