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Wrong-way driver blamed for double-fatal I-80 crash at Newcastle

By: Gus Thomson, Journal Staff Writer
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Two people are dead after a two-car crash early today on Interstate 80 at Newcastle that the California Highway Patrol is blaming on a wrong-way driver. The wrong-way driver has been identified as Christopher Dann, 21, of Auburn. The driver of the other car died after colliding head-on with Dann's vehicle. Her identity had not been determined but the CHP reported she was an 18-year-old woman from Truckee. A passenger in the Truckee woman's car - Gregory Wessels, 23, of Southern California's Fountain Valley -suffered major injuries and burns. Wessels was transported to UC Davis Medical Center in Sacramento. Officials there reported Wessels was hospitalized in serious condition. Dann was the lone occupant of a car that witnesses first spotted traveling west on I-80's eastbound lanes in the vicinity of Auburn, about three miles from the accident location. Officer Dave Montijo said several witnesses saw the 1999 Infiniti G20 going the wrong direction at a speed of about 65 mph. Wessels and the female driver of the other vehicle were in a Hyundai Elantra and the vehicle caught fire after the collision. The crash occurred at about 3:30 a.m. on eastbound Interstate 80, just east of Newcastle. The collision took place in the eastbound slow lane on what would have been a blind curve for both drivers, just before the Union Pacific trestle over the freeway. Conditions were described by the Highway Patrol as foggy, with visibility down to about 100 yards. On his MySpace page, Dann said he loved the beach and was enjoying his experience at California State University, Long Beach. A 2007 Placer High graduate, Dann was in his junior year at the university, majoring in recreation and leisure management. When Dann graduated from Placer, the Christian Valley resident left these words to be published under his yearbook photo: “I don't want to be liked or disliked. I want to be remembered." Dann survived cancer when he was in eighth grade and bounced back from chemotherapy and surgery to snowboard and scuba dive, said his father, Richard Dann. Richard Dann described his son as friendly and fun loving – a young man who had amassed 700 contacts on his phone list. “He was a great guy, we’ll miss him,” Richard Dann said. “He was home for the holidays and visiting some friends. We don’t know how he got onto Interstate 80 going the wrong way. Clearly it was not a good move.” Dann, who preferred to be called “Chris,” was born Nov. 1, 1988, in Auburn. He went to Placer Hills, Sierra Hills and Weimar Hills schools before attending Placer High. Dann was also an accomplished ceramics artist and the arts programs at Placer drew him there as an out-of-district transfer, his father said. Besides his parents, Richard and Jeanne Dann, he is survived by a sister, Michelle, maternal grandparents Grace and Howard Mion of Auburn, and paternal grandparents Chandler and Janet Dann of Christian Valley. After the collision, all three lanes of eastbound Interstate 80 near the accident site were closed until 5:45 a.m. and traffic was rerouted onto Ophir and Taylor roads. The CHP said it was not known whether drugs or alcohol were involved in the crash but that toxicology tests would be part of an investigation. All three people were wearing seatbelts and shoulder straps. The crash took place near where Tina Patel works as a Newcastle Arco station clerk. Patel said she's seen wrong-way drivers in the emergency lane a couple of times in the Bay Area. "I'm scared because I'm driving too," Patel said. "I worry about people driving on the wrong side."