Madera driver found dead in big rig on snow-packed Grapevine identified


FRESNO, Calif. (KSEE/KGPE) — The Madera driver who was found dead in his big rig on a snow-packed Grapevine on Thursday has been identified.

The CHP said the driver was found dead Thursday morning inside his big rig near Lebec along the 5 Freeway.

A tow truck driver responded to a big rig stopped on the southbound 5 Freeway just north of Frazier Mountain Park Road at 8:25 a.m. and found the driver unresponsive, according to CHP spokesman Anthony Dalton.

For an unknown reason, which appeared to be consistent with a possible medical emergency, the driver of the 2017 Freightliner big rig was found unresponsive in the rear of the cab, the CHP said.

The Kern County Fire Department responded minutes later and pronounced the driver, a man, dead at the scene before 9 a.m.

He was identified Friday as Michael Jean Forgues, 51, the Kern County Sheriff’s Office said. An online fundraiser has been set up to help his family cover funeral expenses.

The Madera driver who was found dead in his big rig on a snow-packed Grapevine on Thursday has been identified as 51-year-old, Michael Forgues

The CHP said the cause of his death is yet to be determined.

Two major routes to Southern California reopened Friday after they were closed for nearly two days after a winter storm dumped heavy snow over the Grapevine and Tehachapi Pass, officials said.

Highway 58 reopened around 11:10 a.m. with CHP officers pacing traffic over Tehachapi Pass between Bakersfield and Mojave.

Interstate 5 was closed at Parker Road in Castaic and at Grapevine Road just five miles south of the 99 split near Bakersfield on Christmas night due to a large number of stuck vehicles blocking lanes and heavy snowfall.

Highway 58 was closed at Tower Line Road near Bakersfield and at Highway 14 in Mojave.

The CHP closed the highway on Christmas night because of heavy snowfall.

Officials had reopened Highway 58 Thursday afternoon with CHP officers guiding traffic over Tehachapi Pass but later closed the route again just before midnight Friday due to black ice and numerous spin-outs.

The National Weather Service reported freezing rain at Tehachapi Airport around the same time.

Caltrans said they have been working to remove traffic stuck on Highway 58 throughout the morning.

Sanger resident Sammy Garcia, a big rig driver for Harris Ranch Beef Company, got stuck on eastbound Highway 58 around 3:30 a.m. when it closed and has been waiting with other truckers all morning for the highway to reopen.

Garcia said the trip up Highway 58 started off with slushy, wet snow.

Heavier snow started to fall the closer he got to Tehachapi and has not let up since.

He added that he did not see any spinouts on the way up the mountains.

Garcia said the snowfall is a little lighter now but still nonstop.

The big rig driver said traffic started moving just before 8:40 a.m.

Garcia reported Highway 58 was reduced to one lane through Tehachapi while officials allowed travelers like him to escape the mountains.

The trucker later said he was able to make it out of wintry conditions and into the Los Angeles area for his deliveries after being eight hours late.

Interstate 5 and Highway 58 were not the only routes to Southern California affected by snow.

Interstate 15, a major route between Southern California and Las Vegas, was also closed for a period Thursday and Friday due to heavy snow and spinouts at Cajon Pass and through the Mojave Desert near the Nevada state line.

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