A driver of a van tried to get out of the way of a sports utility vehicle drifting into his lane on Highway 46 Monday night, but he didn't succeed and three people were killed in a violent crash, the California Highway Patrol reported Tuesday.

The crash at 7:35 p.m. east of Brown Material Road near Lost Hills happened when an 18-year-old Lafayette woman in a 2001 Jeep Grand Cherokee drifted from the eastbound lane to the westbound lane, officers said.

A 51-year-old Salinas man driving a 2001 GMC Safari van attempted to avoid the collision by moving to the right, but he was unable to avoid a head-on collision, officers reported.

The woman in the Jeep was killed as was the driver of the van and a 78-year-old man from Hollister who was in the van, officers said. The names of the victims have not been released.

Two other passengers in the van, David Cerritos Serrano, 32 of Los Angeles, and Juan Jose Garcia, 30, of Vancouver, Wa., were injured and were taken to Kern Medical Center, the CHP said.

Serrano suffered major injuries and was flown by helicopter to the hospital. Garcia suffered moderate injuries and was taken to the hospital by ambulance.

The collision started a small fire in the van, which Kern County firefighters put out.

The Monday incident was the second time this year three people were killed in a head-on crash on Highway 46 in Kern County. A Jan. 1 crash just one mile east of the San Luis Obispo County line claimed the lives of a Shandon mother and son, as well as a Bakersfield man. In that wreck a suspected drunken driver rear-ended a car with the Shandon occupants, sending it into the path of an oncoming Chevy pickup, officers reported.

And that crash came a little more than two months after four lives were lost in a head-on collision near Lost Hills where and infant and three adults were killed. Farther east near Wasco was a second crash in October that claimed three lives. Both October wrecks happened on two-lane stretches of the road where one car was trying to pass others, the CHP reported.

The highway has earned the nickname "Blood Alley" because of the number of fatal crashes on its pavement.

A groundbreaking ceremony was held in November for the first phase of a widening project to turn the highway from the San Luis Obispo County line to Lost Hills into four lanes. Construction is expected to be completed in 2012.