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Newcastle I-80 crash manslaughter charge possible

Lifesaving turn off freeway was missed before fatal stop
By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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A life-saving turn off Interstate 80 was only yards away for Bakersfield’s Miguel Ramos minutes before a fatal crash Friday. But instead of turning off eastbound Interstate 80 at the Newcastle-Indian Hill Road exit, Ramos continued on and stopped the flatbed truck at the side of the busy freeway. The California Highway Patrol released Ramos’ name Tuesday and more details of a collision Friday afternoon that took his life and brought traffic to a crawl for hours. CHP Officer Kelly Baraga said that the driver of the truck that slammed into Ramos’ parked flatbed is being investigated on a possible vehicular manslaughter charge. The initial investigation determined that the driver of a big rig carrying a near-full load of prunes allowed the tractor-trailer to drift to the right. The tow truck was pushed about 40 feet up the dirt berm by the semi, which weighed 78,000 pounds with its load of prunes – 2,000 pounds under the maximum weight for that type of rig. Ramos was standing outside the truck and died from injuries at the accident scene. The driver of the big rig – Lakhwinder Singh Sidhu, 34, of Brampton, Canada – consented to a blood toxicology test and was allowed to return to the province of Ontario. He was bound for Canada on Friday after picking up a load of prunes in Vacaville. Ramos family members were in Auburn Tuesday to identify the victim and make arrangements for the body’s return to Bakersfield. Baraga said Ramos was on his way to Reno with the flatbed to look at a vehicle he was considering buying. The grade at Newcastle is infamous for causing vehicles to overheat. Temperatures were in the low 80s when the accident took place shortly after 3 p.m. but Baraga said that it’s still unknown what caused Ramos to turn off on the side of the freeway. CHP investigators will be undertaking a mechanical examination of the 1995 GMC flatbed tow truck. Baraga noted that Ramos may have been unfamiliar with the area and that a turn off the freeway about 50 yards back would have carried him to safety. Ramos’ passenger, 23-year-old Milca Aguilera of Sylmar, was taken to Sutter Roseville Medical Center with minor injuries. Sidhu was uninjured but the truck he was driving sustained major damage. Traffic was backed up for several hours and partial lane closures took place into the evening as investigators pieced together the events surrounding the collision. Baraga said there was no indication that Ramos had put out fluorescent triangles or flares to alert drivers coming around the turn to his vehicle’s presence. But, she added that the flatbed was out of the traffic lane on the narrow shoulder when the crash occurred. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.