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Wrong-way driver triggers deadly crash

March 19, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Traffic on the 118 Freeway is moving after a deadly crash caused a major traffic snag.Officials say the fiery three-vehicle crash was caused by a driver going the wrong way on the freeway. It happened at 11:35 p.m. Tuesday on the westbound 118 Freeway.

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The impact was devastating, a car crashes head-on into a big rig just east of Reseda Boulevard. The truck jackknifed and hit another vehicle. It then exploded and fire quickly spread across the highway as drivers slammed on their brakes and looked on in disbelief.

"I immediately swerved to the shoulder and I just saw a car kind of hit the back of the big rig truck," said Danika Benton, a witness at the scene. "And then I saw the big rig swerve and hit another car, and they just all went on to the median and then burst into flames."

"We came down on the onramp and we saw flames licking up, and we looked over and there was this big rig on fire," said another witness.

The crash left the wrong-way driver dead. The truck driver and another motorist were also hurt.

Pamela Sullivan, who was behind the wheel of the big rig, said she had no time to react.

"All I could think of was 'Oh my God, I'm over top of that car,'" said Sullivan. "Then I was going sideways, I thought 'Oh my god, I'm going over that barrier.' I didn't want to go over the barrier because I didn't want to hit someone else. All of a sudden it dawned on me, the thing was on fire, 'Oh my God, I've got to get out of this thing.'"

The accident shut down the 118 Freeway for hours, backing up traffic in both directions. It wasn't until 5 a.m. that the eastbound lanes were back open. It took crews another three and a half hours to cleanup the west side of the freeway.

While the cleanup took most of the morning, figuring out what caused the crash will take even longer. Authorities will have to do a toxicology test to figure out if the wrong-way driver was under the influence.

The driver has been identified as 32-year-old Juan Mann Jr. of West Hills. Friends say he was coming home from work when the crash happened and that he may have simply been tired.

"We all could have died there. I could have jumped the barrier and hit a bus full of people and killed them. I mean, it could have a catastrophic accident," said Sullivan.

Sullivan lost all of her belongings in the accident, and not just property. She had two cats in the truck with her and they both died in the fire.

 

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