The crash happened around 2:30 a.m. Wednesday morning on Highway 180 near San Mateo, just east of Mendota.
Jose Perez, 50, from Bakersfield was a passenger in the big rig. He is the only one to survive the fiery crash. He was listed in serious condition at Community Regional Medical Center on Wednesday night. He has multiple broken bones, in his hips and back.
Family and friends say the female driver of the car lived in a small Kerman apartment complex where neighbors were already grieving the loss of a close friend.
The crash shut down Highway 180 just east of Mendota for most of the morning on Wednesday. By the afternoon, word of the three deaths spread.
Neighbors who live in the Kerman apartment complex are in deep mourning. "I lived there for about a year, so I got to know them pretty well. I could imagine what they're going through knowing that another person passed away," said Crystal Garcia of Kerman.
Garcia, a former neighbor, says she was a great mother. "She was a nice lady, she was like the mother of the community."
The Granada Commons, a Fresno Housing Authority complex, was also the home to Sarah Roberts. The 26-year-old mother of two was shot and killed outside a New Year's Eve party in Central Fresno. Her death is an open wound for residents here.
"Them both being parents, I just feel bad for the children."
Eyewitnesses and investigators say the crash was one of the worst any of them had ever seen. Terry Ince told Action News, fuel spilled all over the road, then caught fire.
The driver of the big rig died on scene, she was trapped when these huge spools of metal crushed the cab of the rig. The passenger in the Escort died on impact.
The Highway Patrol has not yet determined a cause of the crash, but they say alcohol may have played a roll since investigators found beer bottles in and around the Escort.