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Dinuba principal bonds out of jail after arrest for deadly DUI crash near Reedley, officials say

December 5th, 2023

TULARE COUNTY, Calif. (KFSN) -- A Dinuba principal has bonded out of jail after being arrested for his role in a suspected DUI crash near Reedley.

The California Highway Patrol says they arrested 43-year-old Dinuba resident Blake Benham Sunday night following a crash on Road 56 near Avenue 430.

55-year-old Gloria Barajas and her 35-year-old daughter, Brenda Quinonez, were heading home from Christmas shopping at the Tulare Outlets with Gloria's husband and younger daughter just after 6 pm Sunday.

As they drove north in their Nissan Rogue, the California Highway Patrol says a Ford pickup heading south veered into their lane, colliding head-on with the family's SUV.

The crash killed Barajas and Quinonez and sent their other two family members to Community Regional Medical Center.

The younger sister, Jennifer Rubio, underwent emergency surgery Monday afternoon.

Her emotional family tells Action News she's in critical condition.

"I'm glad that my little sister is trying to fight for her life right now. My small little sister, she's barely 22 years old. She hasn't even lived life. Going to college right now, trying to graduate," said Robert, Barajas' son.

Officers say the man behind the wheel of the truck is the principal of Kennedy Elementary School in Dinuba.

"He's working in schools. We don't want him working in school. We don't want him out there. We want him to be in jail for life because he killed two people. My nephew, my nieces, their life today changed," said Rose Herrera, Barajas' sister.

The CHP says Benham was under the influence of alcohol when he crashed.

Moments later, the victims' family says Benham got out of his pickup and approached the mangled SUV he struck.

Officers arrested Benham for DUI and vehicular manslaughter, but he posted bail/bond and is now out of custody.

"That's not justice, you don't get to have some person like that, a principal, especially a principal that's supposedly a role model to other kids," said Robert.

The family told Action News the holiday season wouldn't be the same without Barajas and Quinonez this year.

As for the Dinuba Unified principal who was driving the truck, the district sent out a letter to families Monday acknowledging the crash and offering support services to students and staff.

Counselors were at Kennedy Elementary helping staff who learned their Benham was arrested.

"In this case, we are talking about a situation involving grief, and people grieving and the shock, and it's just traumatic," said Joe Hernandez, superintendent of Dinuba Unified School District.

"We've never had something like this really happen during my time here, but we do have a safety team that comes together whenever any incident happens."

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