A chain-reaction crash on I-70 in western Denver killed multiple people and shut down the highway near Colorado Mills Parkway in both directions Thursday.
Hyoung Chang/ News Group/The Denver Post via Getty Images
A highway crash killed “multiple” people and started a large fire on Interstate 70 along the western edge of Denver Thursday, in a disaster that police say was triggered by a semi that slammed into a group of cars that were stopped in traffic. The exact number of fatalities is still unknown.
The crash took place around 4:50 p.m. local time and involved at least 24 cars and four semis, according to Ty Countryman of the Lakewood Police Department, in an update on the crash Friday morning.
Witnesses reported a chain-reaction of collisions, followed immediately by a large fire. The truck that police say started the crash was carrying a flatbed full of lumber. ‘2×4’s’ were strewn across the road like match sticks. Diesel fuel also spilled on the roadway, fire officials said.
The intense fire melted aluminum and burned as hot as 2,500 degrees Fahrenheit, said Josh Laipply, chief engineer at the Colorado Department of Transportation.
Six people were taken to the hospital, including the driver of the semi. That driver, who sustained minor injuries, is now in police custody and is being charged with multiple counts of vehicular homicide, Countryman said. Police did not identify the driver, other than to say he’s not from Colorado.
Parts of I-70 remain closed Friday morning — and highway officials say it isn’t likely to open until sometime Saturday. The closure caused long delays in the morning commute, with investigators still combing the area, and workers trying to clean up debris in the eastbound lanes where the crash took place. Westbound lanes are also closed, with motorists using a detour to avoid a bridge where the greatest damage occurred.
Police are still assessing the scene, trying to identify the dead and account for everyone who was involved. It wasn’t until late Thursday night that police investigators could gain access to the worst area of the crash.
“We are trying to put together the vast amount of cars to the vast amount of people that we’re trying to get a hold of,” Countryman said.
Transportation officials are also evaluating the damage to the bridge, caused by the intense heat of the fire.
One firefighter was injured while responding to the accident, “hit by debris when potentially a tire exploded,” the West Metro Fire department said.
Images from the scene showed a blooming cloud of black smoke hanging over the road. In the struggle to get water to the crash site and combat the flames, a group of nearby residents helped firefighters carry a long fire hose to a hydrant in an apartment complex.
Soon after the crash, videos circulated online showing what witnesses say was the semi in question, barreling down the highway at speeds as high as 80 mph and possibly out of control, moments before the crash.
In a news briefing near the scene last night, Countryman said the police have seen those videos, adding, “if the driver’s out of control, that’s certainly a big concern that we have. The question is, why is he out of control?”
In an update Friday morning, Countryman said the police have probable cause to believe the driver was at fault. He added that there was no evidence that the driver was under the influence of either drugs or alcohol.
Investigators are working to examine the mechanical condition of the driver’s semi, Countryman said.