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Tulare County, California — March 29, 2012

Police say a suspected car thief died and his passenger was injured Thursday when a vehicle struck a tree in the Woodlake area.

According to troopers with the California Highway Patrol, an unidentified motorist was behind the wheel of a 1990 Honda Accord as it traveled through the area around 4:55 a.m. As the vehicle approached the corner of Avenue 360 and California State Route 245, the driver apparently lost control.

The Accord veered off the shoulder, smashing into a tree nearby. Officers at the scene say the driver suffered fatal injuries, although it is unclear whether he died on scene or at a nearby hospital.

Paramedics airlifted a passenger to Fresno Community Regional Hospital for treatment. Investigators say the vehicle was reported stolen from an East King Avenue residence.

According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, speeding vehicles contribute to 93 fatal traffic accidents every day.

UPDATE: The deceased victim has been identified as 28-year-old Woodlake resident Chad Appleton.

UPDATE: The injured party has been identified as 20-year-old Visalia resident Chad Sagel.

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