LOS ANGELES – Interstate 5 could be closed until Sunday after a fiery chain-reaction crash that killed three people just south of downtown Los Angeles, authorities said.
Eight vehicles were involved in the deadly crash that happened around midnight on I-5 east of Washington Boulevard in Commerce, a neighborhood south-east of downtown LA, according to California Highway Patrol. The full closure of the well-traveled freeway could reopen as early as Saturday night, but could be held off until Sunday.
CHP Officer Doris Peniche told KTLA that witnesses saw two Dodge vehicles -- a Charger and a Challenger -- speeding in southbound lanes at approximately 12:01 a.m.
“As they were street racing, the Dodge Challenger – which was in the No. 2 lane -- observed a slow-moving vehicle directly in front of him," Peniche said in an interview with the TV station at the scene shortly after 6 a.m. "He attempted to avoid the slower-moving vehicle by changing lanes to the right, and at the same time that slower-moving vehicle changed lanes to the right.”
The suspected street racer braked, lost control of the vehicle and hit the UPS 18-wheeler, causing the big rig to crash through the center divider, according to Peniche.
The semi became airborne and struck a gray Nissan Sentra that was traveling northbound, shearing the top off the car. It came to a rest on top of a Ford Explorer where it subsequently became engulfed in flames, a CHP news release stated.
It took Los Angeles County firefighters more than an hour to extinguish the flames from the big rig, KTLA reported.
The UPS driver was killed in the crash, as were two occupants of the Sentra, according to Peniche. Two others in the Nissan were rushed to the hospital in critical condition, and two others from separate vehicles also sustained injuries.
None of the victims have been identified.
Dealio Lockhart, 35 of Whittier, was arrested on suspicion of street racing, according to CHP. He could face felony vehicular manslaughter charges.
Alcohol and drugs were not suspected to have been a factor in the collision, the release stated.
Authorities were still looking for the second driver, who was in a dark-colored Dodge Charger. A description of the wanted person was not immediately provided.