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Wrong-way I-15 driver kills woman

Man drives wrong way for at least six miles at 100 mph

Update:

This version corrects an earlier breaking news report, which incorrectly identified which driver had been heading the wrong way.

VICTORVILLE • A 50-year-old woman died and two men were taken to area hospitals Saturday morning after a Jeep Cherokee sped north for at least six miles along southbound Interstate 15 and collided head-on with a car near Bear Valley Road.

Wrong-way driver Ilich Ernesto Vargas, of Phelan, was under the influence of drugs at the time, according to the California Highway Patrol, as the man attempted to fight with rescuers and had to be Tazed.

The 33-year-old was arrested at the scene for being under the influence and causing a major-injury collision.

The crash shut down all but one lane of the freeway, triggering heavy delays in the area.

Vargas was driving a white Jeep Cherokee with a female passenger when he got on the freeway heading the wrong direction shortly before 7:30 a.m. It wasn’t known why or exactly where he’d entered the freeway, though witnesses reported seeing him as far back as the Highway 395 on-ramp.

“The vehicle was reportedly traveling at approximately 100 mph,” CHP Officer Mario Lopez said.

Meanwhile, a Fort Irwin man driving a black Mazda tried to brake when he saw the Jeep coming, but he was hit head-on along the freeway in front of the Ashley Furniture store. Both vehicles slid for a short distance and spun around, with the Mazda pushed onto the center median rail.

The woman who was a passenger in the wrong-way vehicle died at the scene. She was identified as Kellie Sue Hughes.

The victim driving the Mazda was transported to Arrowhead Regional Medical Center with moderate to major injuries including abrasions and back pain, CHP officials said. His injuries did not appear to be life-threatening.

Vargas began fighting with rescuers as they tried to pull him from the vehicle, according to Lopez. They were forced to Taze him to subdue him before taking him to Desert Valley Hospital, where he was being treated for injuries including a broken leg.

Vargas was found to be on drugs and was arrested at the scene, though authorities were waiting for him to be released from the hospital to take him to jail.

Multiple commentors at VVDailyPress.com reported seeing the Jeep driving the wrong way and attempting to call for help.

“I was almost hit by this driver as I was approaching Joshua Rd/Hwy 395 off ramp,” Nancy Waggoner posted. “I tried calling 911 for 5 mins but the (line) was busy.”

Only the right lane of the freeway remained open for roughly two hours, as CHP officers investigated the crash and waited for the coroner to arrive. Traffic was backed up for several miles.

Leann Owensby posted that she knew Hughes and that Vargas had driven the wrong way on purpose, though that information wasn’t confirmed by authorities.

Vargas has been previously convicted in San Bernardino County of drug possession, assault with a deadly weapon and disturbing the peace, court records show.

The investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information is urged to call CHP dispatch at (760) 255-8750 or WeTip at (800) 78-CRIME.

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