Truck driver charged for Highway 166 crash that spilled oil in river

By JOSH FRIEDMAN

Santa Barbara County prosecutors have filed charges against the truck driver who crashed on Highway 166 a year ago, spilling more than 4,500 gallons of oil into the Cuyama River.

Shortly after 6 a.m. on March 21, 2020, Jesse Villasana was driving a tanker with approximately 6,678 gallons of crude oil about 20 miles east of Santa Maria. While driving at an unsafe speed, Villasana made an unlawful turning movement, according to the Santa Barbara County District Attorney’s Office.

The speed and unsafe turning movement caused the oil tank to roll off Villasana’s truck and into the Cuyama River, prosecutors allege. The crash spilled 4,533 gallons of crude oil into the Cuyama River. 

At least two birds, a belted kingfisher and a mallard, died as a result of the oil spill, according to the district attorney’s office. 

Prosecutors charged Villasana with a misdemeanors for violating California Fish and Game Code by releasing oil into a state waterway. Additionally, prosecutors charged Villasana with two misdemeanor counts of unlawful taking of a bird, also a violation of the state Fish and Game Code.

Villasana’s arraignment is scheduled for June 25 in Santa Maria. 

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