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Extreme Arizona dust storm causes 19-vehicle highway pile-up; 3 dead

October 30, 2013|By Cindy Carcamo

TUCSON, Ariz. -- A dense dust storm blowing in an area known for severe, blinding gusts sparked a chain-reaction pile-up crash, killing three people, sending 12 others to nearby hospitals and shutting down a portion of an Arizona highway for hours.

The 19-vehicle crash occurred on Interstate 10, near Picacho Peak between Tucson and Phoenix. The collisions left at least four passenger vehicles wedged between semi-trucks, Arizona Department of Public Safety spokesman Bart Graves said. Some of the vehicles ended up on the side of the highway, flipped on their sides or on their rooftops.

“The force of the impact was pretty severe,” Graves said of the Tuesday pile-up. “Some of the vehicles were trying to power their way through the dust storm, which we don’t recommend.”

A preliminary investigation suggests some motorists were traveling at high speeds at the time of the 12:30 p.m. crash, Graves said.

Authorities on Wednesday were still in the process of notifying relatives of those who died. They did identify Gordon Lee Smith, 76, of Washington, as one of the dead. His wife was injured but her condition was not released.

Three of the injured were flown by medical helicopter to hospitals, Graves said.

The stretch of highway where the pile-up occurred has been problematic for authorities. Dust storms have caused fatal crashes in the past but the carnage has never been this severe.

“I’ve been here almost seven years,” Graves said. "I have never seen this kind of destruction. … We lost three people. This is the worse I’ve seen in seven years.”

In such situations, Graves said, the best thing a motorist can do is get completely off the road as soon as possible, turn off all lights and keep feet off the brakes so other travelers don’t try to follow the tail lights.


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