LAKEWOOD, Colo. – Four people died after a semi-truck hauling lumbered in 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.
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.
Six people were taken to hospitals with injuries. Their conditions were unclear on Friday.
"There was just a bunch of debris from this crash that took place. The carnage was significant, just unbelievable," another department spokesman, Ty 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
Officials say 23-year-old, who sustained minor injuries, was headed down a hill when he slammed into traffic slowed down by a previous crash ahead of him on I-70. The crash was intentional and that drugs or alcohol were a factor but investigators were looking at whether his truck was working, Countryman said.
I-70 is Colorado's vital east-west highway that connects the mountains with the plains and traffic has grown worse than the state's population has boomed. The crash happened just after the highway descends from the mountains, where signs were driven to make sure their brakes are cool and working after traveling down the steep grades.
trucks that lose their brakes so drivers can exit and slow down before getting other vehicles.
Pam Russell, a spokeswoman for the Jefferson County district attorney's office, said Aguilera is scheduled to make his first appearance on Saturday to be advised of his rights. A judge may also consider bond during that initial advisory hearing. There was no information on whether he was represented by an attorney.
The spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board said the federal agency was monitoring local authorities' investigation into the crash but it is not involved. Peter Knudson said the NTSB's teams get involved when the agency sees an opportunity to issue new traffic safety recommendations.
Slevin reported from Denver.