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Student killed by pickup near Mae Hensley Junior High
A pickup plowed into a group of students walking to Mae Hensley Junior High School at 8:58 a.m. this morning, killing one and injuring three others, one seriously.

All of those struck were female eighth-graders aged 13 and 14, on their way to school, which started later than normal today.

Police would not release the names of the victims but students have identified Danielle Tarancon as the student who was killed.

The crash happened at Fowler Road and Darwin Avenue north of Smyrna Park and was witnessed by numerous people who were distraught as they watched paramedics and police triage the victims. A few yards away, Larry Dale Duke, 46, of Ceres, the driver of the pickup, was giving initial statements to officers.

Nikalas Matthews was walking down the sidewalk along the park's northern boundary when he heard a "loud boom" and looked up. He said the dark blue Chevy pickup had just blown through the stop sign for southbound Darwin Avenue traffic at Fowler Road as he was making a left to go east and was dragging one of many girls who had been walking westbound across Darwin Avenue. The driver finally stopped on the south side of Fowler Road after hearing screams, said an eyewitness.

Traffic going southbound must stop at Fowler Road.

"He didn't even stop (at the stop sign)," said Matthews. "He finally stopped and got out and had his earphones on. He didn't even know he was dragging the kid under the car and didn't stop until all the kids were screaming. He ran over one of them like a speed bump. You could tell he wasn't paying attention at all. How could you not see a crowd of 10 kids?"

Nancy Zavala, the victim who was dragged through the intersection, was rushed to the U.C. Davis Medical Center in Sacramento by a Medi-flight helicopter which landed in the yard of Mae Hensley Junior High School. Zavala was listed in stable yet critical condition as of 1 p.m.

The faces of both girls near the truck were bloodied and the knee cap of one of the girls sustained major road rash.

The third victim, Jessica Garcia, reportedly sustained a broken hip and is hospitalized in Modesto.

Alex DeLeon, a fourth victim who sustained minor leg injuries, was crying at the scene as she told Sgt. Danny Vierra that she thought one of the pickup's large tires ran over one girl's face.

Larry Dale Duke, 46, of Ceres, the driver of the raised pickup, was taken to the Ceres Police Department for questioning. It's not known if he will face manslaughter charges pending the outcome of an investigation.

Police Chief Art deWerk said students are being counseled.

"The school district and the city are putting together grief counselors to do whatever we can to help people through this," said deWerk. "This is very stressing for all involved."

The chief predicted that the crash will prompt calls from the community for speed enforcement. He said while concerns about speeding in residential areas is a legitimate concern, "in this particular incident there was an exceptional set of facts."

Sgt. Jose Berber said "the facts show speed enforcement probably couldn't have prevented this since it seems the driver ran the stop sign. We're trying to determine other factors."

The driver has been cooperative with police, he noted. While the initial investigation has determined that the driver failed to stop at the stop sign on the north side of Fowler Road, Berber said his department will be evaluating the driver to see if he was impaired or under the influence.

"We're still doing an investigation to determine what happened," said Berber shortly after noon. "There are many more witnesses that need to be interviewed."

The speed of the vehicle has not been determined, he said.

Former Ceres mayor and state Senator Anthony Cannella, issued a statement expressing "my deepest sympathies to the young woman's friends and family members during this time of sadness. I also extend my best wishes to the other students injured in this morning's accident for a swift and full recovery."