1 killed when semi rolls, catches fire on I-10, backs up freeway system

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by Catherine Holland

Video report by Gina Maravilla and Tess Rafols

Posted on February 28, 2013 at 6:22 AM

Updated Sunday, Mar 3 at 11:50 AM

Map: I-10 and Southern (near Broadway Curve)

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Another rough morning commute for Valley drivers

TEMPE, Ariz. -- One person was killed in an early morning semi crash and fire on Interstate 10 near Southern Avenue Thursday.

Eastbound I-10 was closed for more than four hours. By about 10 a.m., the closure was downgraded to a restriction and traffic was moving relatively freely.

The wreck happened at about 5:30 a.m. in the eastbound lanes just south of the Broadway Curve, with the wreck spilling over into the westbound lanes. Smoke was still pouring off the semi 45 minutes later.

The driver was killed. He has been identified as Arturo Munoz, 31.

For a time the Department of Public Safety was diverting both eastbound and westbound traffic to State Route 143 as the closure had already caused backups on both I-10 and westbound US 60 in the East Valley.

"Drivers should expect heavy congestion on all roads in the area and consider delaying travel until the freeway reopens," DPS spokesman Garin Groff said in an email alert to media outlets shortly after the crash. "There is no estimated time to reopen I-10, but an extended closure is likely."

"If you have the option to telecommute, today might be a good day to do it," 3TV traffic reporter Gina Maravilla added. "Bottom line: It's going to probably clog up much of the freeway system."

At 9 a.m., DPS opened all but two of the westbound lanes. A little more than an hour later, most of the eastbound lanes had re-opened.

"The left two eastbound lanes remain closed near State Route 143 as crews continue work, along with the westbound HOV lane," Groff said in an email update. "Drivers should expect some delays in the area as the cleanup continues, but the long traffic queues have cleared."

Crews worked steadily for hours to clean up the debris and move the wrecked semi.

"We're doing absolutely everything that we can to ease this some of this congestion," Cook told 3TV's Tess Rafols at about 7:30 a.m.. "We understand that it's frustrating for commuters."

At this point, it's not clear what caused the devastating crash.

"That's an answer we probably won't have, merely because the driver of that semi is dead," Cook said.

Firefighters said it looked like there was a fire in the engine and early morning video showed sparks flying from what appeared to be a small explosion.

The semi's cargo, believed to be clothes and textiles, fueled the fire. It took firefighters about an hour to douse the flames.

There was some concern that the fire might have damaged the roadway or the retaining wall. ADOT crews will make that call.

"I wouldn't expect it to be unsafe," Cook said. "We're going to leave it to them to make sure this road is safe for everybody else."

Four other cars were involved in the crash. Aerial video showed one of those wrecked cars nudged up against the wall separating the eastbound and westbound lanes.

Two cars on the westbound side were hit by flying debris, Cook said.

While the damage to those vehicles was significant, the people in those cars suffered only minor injuries.

This is the second day in a row that a major accident on I-10 has caused serious delays for morning commuters.

On Feb. 13, a semi truck carrying coffee creamer rolled over on I-10 at the "mini stack." While no serious injuries were reported, that wreck resulted in a 12-hour closure.

Raw video from Tess Rafols as she approached the scene (about 6:30 a.m.)

 

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