A multi-vehicle wreck on Highway 101 killed three and injured 10 others at 12:30 a.m. Saturday morning just south of Refugio State Beach.

An older model Mercury Cougar traveling south veered into the northbound fast lane and sideswiped an oncoming Chevrolet Malibu, sending the Malibu spinning off to the right shoulder. The Cougar continued southbound and smashed head-on into a Dodge minivan, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The driver of the Cougar and his passenger, both 19-year-old men , were pronounced dead at the scene. A 15-year-old female passenger in the minivan died later at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital.

A third passenger in the Cougar and a passenger in the minivan were critically injured, while three other people in the minivan suffered moderate injuries. All five passengers in the Malibu sustained only minor injuries.

“This was a very long and difficult extrication process,” said fire department spokesman Capt. Charlie Johnson of the crushed minivan. “It took two sets of [Jaws of Life] and eight to 10 firefighters to extricate the front-seat passenger.”

The five occupants of the Malibu were on their way to a family reunion in Atascadero from Indio, Johnsaid said. “They made arrangements for a taxi to pick them up and continue their journey.”

Johnson said that once fire crews arrived on scene, they declared a mass casualty incident resulting in the dispatch of additional fire and paramedic units.

“This was a coordinated rescue effort involving medics, firefighters and law enforcement,” Johnson said.

CHP units worked to direct northbound traffic, which was snarled for nearly three hours. Fire crews did not leave the scene until 2:30 a.m.