ENCINITAS, Calif. — Three people were killed in a fiery head-on crash involving a wrong-way driver on Interstate 5 early Sunday, closing the freeway for several hours, according to the California Highway Patrol.
The crash happened at 3:24 a.m. between Santa Fe Drive and Manchester Avenue when 29-year-old David Elmore of Encinitas was driving the wrong way in a Mercedes-Benz reaching speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. Elmore slammed into a southbound Chrysler sedan carrying a man and a woman from La Jolla, killing all three on impact, CHP spokesman Jim Bettencourt said.
The force of the collision set the Chrysler ablaze, charring the remains of the still-unidentified occupants, Bettencourt said.
The deadly scenario began about 3 a.m. in San Ysidro, when the Mercedes driver — Elmore — made a sudden U-turn on I-5 at the Mexican border and started hurtling north on the southbound lanes, authorities said.
The Mercedes sped about 40 miles to just south of Manchester Avenue in Solana Beach, where the crash occurred, Bettencourt said.
CHP officers spotted the wrong-way car barreling north at H Street in Chula Vista, with Border Patrol agents following behind on the northbound side of the freeway, the CHP said.
At E Street, the CHP and border patrol lost sight of the Mercedes, which apparently went north past National City, downtown San Diego, Mission Bay, La Jolla and Del Mar before the fatal crash, authorities said
The southbound 5 was snarled until 10:05 a.m, as all traffic was detoured at Manchester. Traffic on the old Coast Highway was jammed for miles.
California Highway Patrol Officer Jim Bettencourt says CHP officers were unable to slow or stop the vehicle.
“At the time of that crash, we had officers who were working in other felony DUI collisions on State Route 78 near Mar Vista where people were ejected from that car. Life Flight was landing on the freeway and so we didn’t have officers in position to even get close to catching up with this guy who was driving at well over 100 miles an hour.” Said CHP Officer Jim Bettencourt.
Bettencourt says officers have to always consider other drivers and officers’ lives in these types of situations.
“There could have been ways where officers could have gotten into position to attempt a spike strip at speeds that are that fast sometimes that can be difficult especially if he’s in the number one lane and we have officers in the center divide that are exposed… “ Said Bettencourt. “We could attempt to run traffic breaks to slow traffic down but then again you have someone who’s going at such high speeds that it becomes difficult task at that point you know decisions that are being made out there on the road are split second by the officers and you know our biggest concern is trying to not put as many people in jeopardy as possible.”
The identities of the driver and the two victims have not been released. CHP confirmed there is a history of DUI in Elmore’s past but it is unclear whether alcohol or drugs were involved.