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Monday Fire, Tuesday Crash Claim Two Lives
Crews were called to the scene of a multi-vehicle crash, with a passenger in one vehicle ejected and pronounced dead at the scene Tuesday morning, Sept. 1. The driver of that vehicle was arrested on DUI and vehicular manslaughter counts. Modesto Fire Department Photo

A 60-year-old Valley Home man died as the result of an early morning fire on Monday, Aug. 31 and a man died early Tuesday in a multi-vehicle crash along Highway 108 east of Oakdale.

The Stanislaus County Coroner’s Office identified the fire victim as Ralph Jones.

Authorities said that Jones succumbed to his injuries early Monday morning after fire crews pulled him from a burning building on Schultz Road in Valley Home.

According to fire reports, the blaze broke out around 3:40 a.m. in a detached garage that had been converted into an apartment on the property but the fire was contained to the man’s room.

Residents in nearby structures on the property noticed the fire and called Modesto Fire Station 30 – which is in Valley Home. Neighbors noticed the blaze and called 911, too. Firefighters arrived at the scene to find the structure with billowing smoke and active fire.

Crews managed to fight the blaze from the outside to gain entry to the structure and found the man in his bedroom. The victim was taken to an area hospital but later died of his injuries.

Fire officials said the cause of the fire remains under investigation. Mutual aid was called in from Escalon and Stanislaus Consolidated to help in fighting the fire.

Meanwhile, the early morning crash along Highway 108 on Tuesday, Sept. 1 occurred just before 5:20 a.m. and was just east of Lancaster Road.

According to the CHP report, a total of four vehicles were involved and a passenger in one of the vehicles died as a result of the crash.

The preliminary investigation showed that a woman identified as Erica Linja, 36, of Ceres was driving a 2003 Chevrolet SUV eastbound on Highway 108 just east of Lancaster Road when she crossed over a set of double yellow lines to pass a 2014 Freightliner, driven by a 35-year-old man from Planada. A 2001 Honda sedan, driven by a 54-year-old man from Turlock, was westbound on the highway, approaching Linja’s vehicle. Those two vehicles sideswiped each other, causing Linja to lose control of her vehicle. The Chevrolet went back into the eastbound traffic lane, then crossed into the westbound lane, directly in front of a 2014 Ford utility truck, driven by a 52-year-old man from Sonora. The two vehicles collided, causing the right front male passenger in the Chevrolet – who authorities said was not wearing a seatbelt – to be ejected from the vehicle. The Chevrolet then went back into the eastbound lane, in front of the freightliner, and was struck by the big rig.

Linja was taken by air ambulance to Memorial Medical Center with major injuries and was also placed under arrest by the CHP for DUI and vehicular manslaughter. Both charges are felonies.

The driver of the Ford utility truck was taken by ground ambulance to Doctors Medical Center with minor injuries. The driver of the Honda and the Freightliner did not report any injuries.

Authorities had not released the name or age of the fatal victim as of press time on Tuesday. He was declared deceased at the scene.

Traffic in the area was diverted during the rescue, roadway clean up and investigative efforts.