Wrong-way driver hits, kills sisters on I-17 in Phoenix

Posted: Updated:
(Source: Arizona Dept. of Public Safety) (Source: Arizona Dept. of Public Safety)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: Arizona Dept. of Public Safety) (Source: Arizona Dept. of Public Safety)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)
(Source: 3TV/CBS 5) (Source: 3TV/CBS 5)

Three people -- two young women and a young man-- are dead after yet another wrong-way crash on a Phoenix Freeway. Two of the three were students at Grand Canyon University.

The victims have been identified as Karlie Arlene Richardson, age 20 and Kelsey Mae Richardson, age 18, both of Mooresville, North Carolina.

The wrong way driver has been identified as Keaton Tyler Allison age 21, Colorado Springs, Colorado.

[RELATED: Victims named in I-17 wrong way crash]

It happened at about 2:30 a.m. Friday. The Arizona Department of Public Safety says a wrong-way driver was traveling southbound in the northbound lanes of Interstate 17 near Greenway Road.

[PHOTOS: Wrong-way crash on I-17 in Phoenix kills 3]

According to DPS spokesman Raul Garcia, there was only one 911 call reporting the wrong-way driver. That came in at 2:08 a.m. The second call reported the head-on collision.

The wrong-way driver, a 22-year-old man, had gone for 5 or 6 miles from the Happy Valley/Pinnacle Peak area before slamming into a white passenger car.

[WATCH: DPS spokesman Raul Garcia explains what happened]

The two young women in that car -- 19- and 20-year-old sisters -- were killed, as was the wrong-way driver.

The impact was so severe that the Phoenix Fire Department had to run extrication operations on both vehicles.

[SPECIAL SECTION: Wrong-way drivers]

GCU confirmed late Friday morning that the driver of the wrong way vehicle was a GCU student as well as one of the two sisters in the other vehicle. 

“It is with great sorrow and heavy hearts that we share the news that three people, including two students from Grand Canyon University, were killed in a wrong-way driver accident last night on Interstate 17. Names have not been released pending notification of families," according to a statement by GCU. "As a close-knit community of students, faculty and staff, please keep these families in your thoughts and prayers during this tragic time. Pastor Tim Griffin’s office and the entire Student Affairs staff will be available in Building 26 to assist any students who need support or counseling.”

DPS is working to notify the next of kin of all three people.

"The vehicles have Colorado and North Carolina plates," Garcia said in the hours after the crash. "We're working with state troopers from those two states to get those families notified."

No other information about the driver or the victims has been released.

"The most difficult part [of this] is that we have three fatalities out here -- all very young," Garcia said.

The main thing we want everyone to do if you see this, when you confront this is call 911. Don't assume that someone else is going to call 911.

Investigators have not ruled out impairment as a factor in the wreck, according to Garcia. Impairment often is to blame in this kind crash.

"The majority of these wrong-way crashes -- 90-some percent of them -- are impaired drivers."

DPS has one request of everybody traveling on the state's freeways.

"The main thing we want everyone to do if you see this, when you confront this is call 911," Garcia said. "Don't assume that someone else is going to call 911. Make that call. Know where you are. And most importantly, avoid all distractions.

"Have a plan in place," he continued. "You're gonna face hazards on the roadways ... and one of those may very well be a wrong-way [driver]. So have a plan in place so that when you are confronted with that hazard, you're not going to waste that split-second that could save your life. You're gonna use it to get out of the way or take evasive action."

DPS says that if you find yourself facing a wrong-way driver, the best thing you can do is slow down and move as far to the right as possible.

“Get out of the way," DPS Capt. Tim Mason advised after an incident in late December. "We’re not asking people to take rapid immediate evasive action because we don’t want them to have a crash.”

He also advised drivers to stay out of the HOV and high-speed lanes after 11 p.m. if possible. He explained that wrong-way drivers tend to drift that way, which means the farther right you are, the safer you'll be.

Last year, DPS troopers responded to more than 1,600 reports of wrong-way drivers. 

"In most instances, these people reorient themselves and exit the highway," Garcia explained in December.

It's the other instances that are dangerous -- potentially deadly. Arizona averaged more than two wrong-way crashes per month last year.

DPS spokesman Quentin Mehr said there have been seven wrong-way wrecks with injuries or fatalities in 2017. That is on par with 2016 numbers.

The most difficult part is that we have three fatalities out here -- all very young.

While the Arizona Department of Transportation has taken steps to cut own on wrong-way crashes, including installing oversized warning signs at ramps throughout the state and testing a wrong-way vehicle detection system, there's really only so much it can do.

The public has to do its part, as well.

"Col. Milstead has said that this is a social responsibility," Garcia explained. "Folks have to get out of the driver's seat if they're impaired. And we also need the community -- family members, friends -- to take those keys aways from that would-be [impaired] driver."

The northbound lanes of I-17 were closed at Greenway Road for several hours, finally reopening at about 8:15 a.m. 

Copyright 2017 KPHO/KTVK (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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