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Burning car in Highway 99 mishap carries 100 bullets
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CHP officer Brian Morse and a firefighter are seen helping a Turlock man retrieve the contents of the trunk that were apparently not burned. A portion of the other car in the mishap can be seen behind the fire engine at the left. - photo by GLENN KAHL / The Journal

It wasn’t your run-of-the-mill Highway 99 crash.

The Monday afternoon accident that backed up southbound Highway 99 traffic for close to 10 miles included the occupants of one car that turned over putting it back on all four wheels just before emergency crews arrived. Shortly after they did, it caught on fire and causing concern that 100 bullets that they were carrying in the vehicle could start exploding.

Firefighters responding to the collision about midway between Lathrop and French Camp roads were alerted by their dispatcher that the vehicle was completely engulfed in flames contained 100 rounds of ammunition.

Black smoke could be seen for miles away from the scene of the crash that immediately halted traffic on the freeway shortly before 4 p.m.  Truck traffic that was mixed with commuter vehicles backed up the highway for an estimated 10 miles into Stockton.

Motorists and truckers alike got out of their vehicles in the extreme afternoon heat and tried to see the source of the smoke and flames.  Some stood on the tops of their cars and pickup trucks attempting to get a better view.  Truck drivers lined up along the freeway fence to see what was ahead.  Many appeared to be hot and frustrated by being trapped in the long line of traffic with nowhere to exit.

A CHP spokesman said the collision occurred when commute traffic slowed and a 1998 Honda Prelude driven by a 19-year-old Manteca construction worker, Alejandro Mercado,  on his way home from his job in Stockton collided with the rear of a late model four-door Nissan sedan from Turlock.

The Honda spun into the fence at the edge of the roadway causing no significant injury to the driver but causing front end damage.

Skid marks indicated the crash occurred in the right hand lane of the freeway.  The Nissan was catapulted into a temporary concrete retaining wall on the center lane and overturned onto its side.  The four occupants reportedly scrambled out of the vehicle without any serious injury and righted the car before it caught fire.

Authorities were advised that there were at least two guns and 100 rounds of small caliber ammunition inside the car – believed to have been in the trunk.  The first fire engine team on the scene from Manteca Fire Department attacked the blaze from the adjacent frontage road.

One of the motorists at the crash site reported hearing what he thought were two to three rounds explode which firefighters believed were three tires on the car blowing out from the flames. 

The teenage driver of the Honda said he had purchased the car only two months ago and had been working at a construction site in Stockton.  He was alone in the vehicle, but added that his brother came upon the scene shortly after the collision had occurred.

When the smoke cleared the occupants of the burned out vehicle were able to retrieve their valuables from the trunk of the Nissan. The trunk appeared to have been spared any extreme fire damage.

Firefighters responded from both the Lathrop-Manteca Fire Department and from the City of Manteca’s Company 243 to two different locations.  Shortly after the first collision, another occurred at the southbound off ramp of Highway 99 at North Main Street.  It was later reported to be a non-injury crash as well.