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University student, Iraq veteran killed by drunk driver
vanessa tapetillo and juan barragan
Vanessa Tapetillo and Juan Barragan - photo by Photo Contributed

A mother of two and a Sociology major at California State University, Stanislaus and her boyfriend, a former Marine who served two tours in Iraq, were killed Friday by a suspected drunk driver near Chowchilla.

Vanessa Tapetillo, 28, and Juan Barragan, 28, both of Merced were killed after a pickup truck with a trailer attached landed on top of their vehicle.

The suspected drunk driver, Bruce Erickson, 65, of Winton sustained minor injuries from the collision. He was arrested on suspicion of gross vehicular manslaughter and felony driving under the influence.

Erickson was driving a 2012 Ford F-350 truck with a trailer attached on northbound Highway 99 shortly before 5 p.m. Friday. According to the California Highway Patrol report, Erickson took the off-ramp to Road 15 at a high rate of speed and was unable to maintain control on the sharp right curve of the exit.

The Ford struck a raised concrete curb median with enough force to launch it into the air, the CHP reported. The Ford came down on a 2015 Toyota Tacoma which was on the on-ramp to the highway from Road 15.

Tapetillo and Barragan were pronounced dead at the scene.

The CHP reported that Erickson refused to be tested for alcohol at the scene. ABC 30 News reported Erickson had been at the Farnesi’s Steakhouse and Coffee Shop prior to the collision and that he was witnessed nodding off in the back of the patrol car while still at the scene of the crash.

Tapetillo was a full-time student at the university, all the while raising her 10-year-old son and her six-year-old daughter.  

Family members told ABC 30 News that after serving two tours in Iraq as a Marine, Barragan was preparing to enter collegiate life.

A Go Fund Me account has been set up to help pay for Tapetillo’s funeral expenses at