LEMOORE — Nearly two dozen vehicles crashed Thursday on Avenal Cutoff Road after a dust storm reduced visibility, the California Highway Patrol said.

The CHP received a report of a collision at 3:03 p.m. involving three vehicles at Avenal Cutoff Road, just south of Jackson Avenue. Within minutes, the CHP said, witnesses reported up to 10 vehicles were involved.

Officer John Tyler, a spokesman for the Hanford area CHP office, said heavy winds caused a dust storm that contributed to the crash. Tyler said vehicles slowed down for the dust, creating a chain reaction collision.

"The visibility was severely reduced," Tyler said.

At the crash site, Lt. Don Tripp, Hanford area CHP commander, said a majority of the vehicles involved in the crash were able to safely stop, but were then hit from behind and pushed into the vehicles in front of them.

Nelly Espinoza said the dust was so thick, she was not able to see anything before it was too late.

"Out of nowhere I just saw the truck in front of me and I hit my brakes and skid," Espinoza said. "Unfortunately we hit the [vehicle in front]."

Espinoza had her husband and two young daughters in the car with her, but none of them were injured.

A total of 22 vehicles were damaged. Ten people were transported to area hospitals with minor to moderate injuries. Tripp said there was one major injury and the individual was transported to Adventist Medical Center with possible blunt force trauma from hitting the steering wheel of the car.

"Fortunately they were all wearing their seat belts, which reduced injuries," Tripp said. "That little piece of cloth does save lives."

The Kings County Sheriff's Office, fire department and roads department responded to assist as well as Naval Air Station Lemoore emergency responders. Authorities closed the westbound off-ramp to Avenal Cutoff Road.

Jim Dudley, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Hanford, said the weather service was aware of rumors on Twitter about blowing dust and reduced visibility contributing to the crash.

"There were some rain showers in the area, but we didn't get any reports of blowing dust," Dudley said.

Tripp said along with a fair amount of traffic on Avenal-Cutoff Road, there is also a lot of wind, dust, fog and other inclement weather. He encourages drivers to drive at a safe speed, maintain space cushions between cars, be aware of traffic, use seat belts and not be distracted while driving.

Reporters Seth Nidever and Julissa Zavala contributed to this report.


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