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CHP Completes Investigation of Fatal Big-Rig Crash Near Hope Ranch Inn

The District Attorney's Office will decide whether to file charges against the truck driver, who lost control of his brakes on Highway 154

The California Highway Patrol has completed its investigation of August’s tragic accident in which the driver of a big rig hauling gravel on Highway 154 lost control of his brakes and plowed through a residence, killing three people, and the case now will go to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

Oxnard truck driver Joaquin Garcia Morales, 51, was traveling down Highway 154 from San Marcos Pass, hauling several tons of gravel bound for Santa Paula. He was unable to stop and ran through two intersections before maneuvering down a driveway near the Hope Ranch Inn and crashing into the home at 4119 State St.

A family of three, including Franklin Elementary School student Jaciel Tellez, 8, his mother, Lorena Guadalupe-Tellez Pacheco, who was thought to have been 25, and Leon Leonel, 23, were killed. Morales sustained minor injuries in the crash.

The investigation will be presented to the DA’s Office on Friday. CHP’s Multidisciplinary Accident Investigation Team has been investigating the collision to determine whether the cause was mechanical failure or driver error. The DA’s Office will decide whether any criminal or civil charges will be filed against Morales, who, records show, has received 17 citations since 2001.

In December, Caltrans posted large yellow signs along Highway 101 recommending that large trucks take that route instead of Highway 154. The winding road is prone to accidents, and truck-related collisions have been caused by unsafe speed or turning movements and braking problems, according to the CHP.

Over the years, turnouts, passing lanes and other measures of safety have been implemented. A so-called rumble strip was recently added to the middle of the lanes so drivers are alerted when they’ve drifted over the line, Caltrans spokesman Colin Jones said.

The Leon and Tellez Families Memorial Fund has been established at Wells Fargo Bank, La Cumbre Plaza Branch, 3804 State St., Santa Barbara, CA 93105, 805.687.5582. Donations can be made to account No. 3395038585.

Noozhawk staff writer Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk or @NoozhawkNews.

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