Driver facing felony charge in high-speed crash; police suspect impairment

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Jill Galus and Gina Maravilla

Posted on February 11, 2014 at 6:26 AM

Updated Thursday, Feb 13 at 12:15 PM

Map: 51st Avenue and Bell Road

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PHOENIX -- One man remains in the hospital and another is behind bars after a wreck that reduced one vehicle to nothing more than a pile of mangled metal barely recognizable as a car.

That car, a Toyota Corolla, was hit by a speeding Chevy Suburban at 51st Avenue and Bell Road early Tuesday morning.

Police say the driver of the Suburban, later identified as Merino Carlo Lusterino, ran a red light. They suspect that both impairment and speed were factors in the wreck.

Lusterino, 44, has been released from the hospital and booked on a felony charge of aggravated assault, Officer James Holmes of the Phoenix Police Department said Wednesday afternoon.

According to police, a motorcyclist called 911 moments before the crash to report that a Suburban had nearly run him off the road.

Right after that, an off-duty officer in his personal vehicle spotted the Suburban. He said it was going at least 80 mph.

That officer saw Lusterino blow through the red light and slam into the Corolla. The impact was so severe that the Corolla skidded about 200 feet before coming to a stop in the median.

Debris was scattered all over the roadway. Video from the scene showed evidence markers littering bell Road. Investigators spent hours sifting through that evidence as they piece together the moments leading up to the crash.

"There were preliminary indications that, aside from speed, alcohol may have been a factor on the part of the Suburban driver," Holmes of the Phoenix Police Department said. "As is standard, toxicology concerning both drivers will be reviewed."

As of Wednesday, Holmes said those toxicology results were still outstanding.

Both Lusterino and the other driver  were taken to a local hospital.

While Lusterino has since been released and arrested, the driver of the Corolla, a 32-year-old man, remains in critical condition.

No details about either Lusterino or the driver of the Corolla were immediately available.

The intersection was closed for several hours, reopening shortly before noon.

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