Four people died after a semi-truck hauling lumber plowed into vehicles on a crowded section of Interstate 70 near Denver, causing a fire so intense that it melted the roadway and metal off of cars, authorities said Friday. Authorities had to wait until daylight to confirm the death toll from Thursday afternoon’s 28-vehicle pileup because of the devastation caused by the fire.
Twenty-four cars and four semis were involved in the deadly crash, CBS Denver reported.
“We’re still trying to identify what some of the cars even are,” said Ty Countryman with the Lakewood Police Department.
Lakewood police spokesman John Romero described it as a chain reaction of crashes and explosions from ruptured gas tanks. “It was crash, crash, crash and explosion, explosion, explosion,” he said.
Ten people were rushed to Saint Anthony hospital, CBS Denver reported. As of Friday morning, all of them had been released but one.
“There is just a bunch of debris from this crash that took place. The carnage was significant, just unbelievable,” Countryman said.
The driver of the truck suspected of causing the crash, Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos of Texas, has been arrested on suspicion of vehicular homicide, police said.
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Officials say the 23-year-old, who sustained minor injuries, was headed down a hill when he slammed into traffic slowed because of a previous crash ahead of him on I-70. There is no indication the crash was intentional and that drugs or alcohol were a factor but investigators were looking at whether his truck’s brakes were working, Countryman said.
I-70 is Colorado’s vital east-west highway that connects the mountains with the plains and traffic has grown worse as the state’s population has boomed. The crash happened just after the highway descends from the mountains, where signs warn drivers to check to make sure their brakes are cool and working after traveling down the steep grades.
There are also ramps on hills off the sides of the highway for trucks that lose their brakes so drivers can exit and slow down before hitting other vehicles.