At least four people were killed in a massive pileup of 28 vehicles that erupted in fire Thursday on Interstate 70 west of Denver, Lakewood police said Friday morning.
More bodies still might be on the highway, they said.
“The carnage was significant, just unbelievable,” said police spokesman Ty Countryman, and each person killed was the only occupant in that car. The Jefferson County Coroner’s Office hadn’t identified any of the victims.
The driver of the semi-truck that precipitated the havoc — Rogel Lazaro Aguilera-Mederos, 23, of Texas — was arrested on suspicion of multiple counts of vehicular homicide, Countryman said. He is fully cooperating with police.
Eastbound interstate between Sixth and 32nd avenues will be closed until at least Saturday as police continue to investigate the wreck of 24 cars and four semis, said Josh Laipply, chief engineer with the Colorado Department of Transportation. Traffic is detoured at Sixth Avenue.
The chemical binders in the oil of the asphalt were melted by the fire, degrading the material to the point that it would crumble if kicked.
Crews have to dig into the asphalt to see how deep the impacts go. From there, they will replace between 2 and 4 inches of the road, Laipply said. He hopes to have the repairs complete and the road opened by Saturday morning.
Traffic crews were able to open westbound lanes just before 2 p.m. Friday following successful tests of the structural integrity of the bridge standing just west of where the fire broke.
Aguilera was headed east downhill on I-70 when his semi crashed into slower traffic and sparked the massive fire. Flames whipped off the vehicles and what appeared to be lumber spilled across the interstate, news helicopter video footage showed.
“He can’t stop, doesn’t stop and as a result, crashed into multiple cars,” Countryman said.
A towering plume of black smoke was seen for miles as firefighters doused the burned-out shells of several vehicles.
Police originally reported 15 vehicles involved in the accident, but increased that number to 28 by Friday as they sifted through debris.
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Six people had been hospitalized Thursday night. Of the five, one was a firefighter with West Metro Fire. The department tweeted that he is “home and recovering.”
The conditions of the other five are unknown.
There’s no indication that the driver intentionally barreled into traffic or was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, police said. Investigators were looking at whether brake failure or mechanical problems prevented the truck full of lumber from stopping, Countryman said Thursday.
“Without control, it doesn’t matter if it’s a fully loaded semi or a hatchback, you are responsible for your vehicle,” he said.
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