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Agua Dulce crash: 19 vehicles collide; 17 hurt

June 26, 2012 12:00:00 AM PDT
A chain-reaction accident turned the 14 Freeway into a mangled mess on Tuesday. Seventeen people were injured in a 19-vehicle pile-up that shut down a section of the freeway for hours.

Authorities said the crash near Agua Dulce in northern Los Angeles County was reported just before 10 a.m. There were smashed cars, trucks, SUVs and a wrecked big rig rammed together, and some vehicles ended up on top of each other in the southbound lanes of the freeway at Escondido Canyon Road.

Two of the injured people were in critical condition, according to L.A. County Fire Inspector Quvondo Johnson. One of the critically injured was a person who was trapped and had to be extricated by rescuers, Johnson said. Most of the other injuries were minor. No fatalities were reported.

Bill Edger, whose truck was destroyed in the pile-up, said it was a miracle no one was killed.

"We were stopped for the Highway Patrol to get some debris off of the road. All of a sudden, just boom, boom, boom, like four big booms," he said. "The big 18-wheeler hit a car, who then pushed another car in front, who pushed a truck that went up in the air about 20 feet, landed on a Volkswagen and an SUV, which then rammed me in my back.

The big rig was being driven by Darwin Martinez, 25, of Los Angeles, according to the California Highway Patrol.

"Martinez was travelling southbound in the number three lane at an unsafe speed for conditions and failed to avoid stopped traffic," according to the CHP.

Southbound lanes were closed with traffic diverted off at Escondido Canyon Road. The California Highway Patrol opened up one lane at 11:10 a.m. to release cars that were stuck on the freeway between the accident and the closure. By 2 p.m., the freeway was re-opened.

The exact cause of the accident has not yet been determined.

"People just really need to slow down," Johnson said. "This type of accident is definitely caused by speed. As far as what actually caused it, CHP is going to be investigating."

Korey Witzke, who works for a contracting company, was on his way to work in a white Toyota at the front of the pile-up. The 20 year old was drifting off to sleep in the back seat when the sound of screeching tires and crunching metal jolted him awake.

"I was about to doze off until I heard a screeching sound behind me and a bunch of cars just collided into us," Witzke said. "There was about 10 cars crashing into each other. I didn't know how bad it was until all of us got out of the car and it looked like just a dog pile of cars."

Michael Schwartz was a passenger in that same car. He was sitting in the front seat.

"When I got out of the car right away, I thought, 'OK, I'm OK, I can stand, I can walk,' and I looked around and saw the wreckage behind me, and it was surreal," he said.

Schwartz and some other survivors started assessing the damage and helping people out of their cars.

"People were in the vehicles trying to get out. We were helping people here and there trying to get out of their cars," Schwartz said.

See photos from the 19-vehicle pile-up on the southbound 14 Freeway in Agua Dulce.


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