CROWN KING, Ariz. -- Three people were killed and four more, including a child, were critically injured in a crash involving a wrong-way driver, according to Officer Carrick Cook with the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
The crash happened on southbound Interstate 17 about three miles south of the Sunset Point Rest Area, according to the Arizona Department of Transportation.
Cook said the wrong-way driver was reported near Pioneer Road by multiple 911 calls at approximately 4 a.m. He was driving his Chrysler 300 sedan north in the southbound lanes.
DPS had five highway patrol officers and a helicopter trying to intercept the wrong-way vehicle. A sixth officer was called out from the Cordes Junction area.
"We definitely called out everybody that we could," Cook said.
It is nearly 23 miles from Pioneer Road in Anthem to the Bumblebee Road exit (exit 258) a few miles south of Sunset Point.
"We were in a position to try to stop this," Cook said. "We missed our opportunities a couple of times because of the delay between the 911 calls and our reports."
Cook explained that there is a two- or three-minute delay between when 911 calls come in and when the information is related to officers in the field.
"By the time we've got that information or we're aware of where they're at, that person is way past where they were initially reported," he said.
The wrong-way driver, a Phoenix resident in his 60s, plowed head-on into a rented minivan carrying a family of six. He was injured in the crash but is expected to survive.
Three adults in the van were killed. They have been identified as Evan Christian Hendriadi, 50, Jenny Sudjono, 70, and Lioe Kim Tjhiuw, 78, all from Indonesia. The van driver, identified only as Harianto, 42, of Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., and passenger Fenny Sudjono, 47, of Indonesia, were injured, along with 9-year-old Ryan Christian, also of Indonesia.
The adults were taken to John C. Lincoln North Mountain Hospital. The child was air-lifted to Phoenix Children's Hospital.
One of the dead adults from the minivan reportedly is the father of the injured child. That child, along with the other survivors from the minivan, are expected to recover, according to Cook.
The first priority for DPS officers at the site was helping the injured.
"We went into first-responder mode and not law-enforcement mode," Cook said.
Detectives later arrived on the scene.
"This is a family that needs answers and a community that needs answers and we'll make sure we do that," Cook said. "We have not ruled out impairment. That's something we'll definitely look at."
Once he recovers, the wrong-way driver will face a variety of criminal charges.
"If he does survive, we're looking at multiple charges -- three counts of manslaughter, at least, and aggravated assault for the other injuries," Cook said.
Detectives are looking for any additional witnesses who may have seen the suspect driving the wrong way or were almost hit. Anyone with information is asked to contact Detective James Waltermire at 602-223-2370 or Detective Sergeant Mark Hoerrmann at 602-223-2193.
This was the second deadly crash caused by a wrong-way driver this week. On Monday, Raul Silva Corona drove the wrong way on three Valley freeways for about 35 miles before hitting Mesa police Sgt. Brandon Mendoza head-on. Mendoza was driving home from work. The Maricopa County Medical Examiner's Office later confirmed that Corona, who also died in the wreck, was drunk.
Last March, ADOT published a report on the viability of implementing existing systems and technologies to detect wrong-way drivers, which "present one of the most serious traffic hazards on Arizona’s urban freeways," and reduce wrong-way crashes.
According to the report, drivers get on the freeway going the wrong direction for one or a combination of three main reasons.
- The driver is impaired.
- The driver is distracted or confused.
- The signage or markings a difficult to understand and follow.
The report found that an alert system might reduce the current delay between 911 calls and getting information to officers that Cook described, giving law enforcement enough lead time to intercept a wrong-way driver.
For the most current information about highway closures and restrictions statewide, visit ADOT’s Travel Information Site at www.az511.gov or call 511.
OPEN: I-17 southbound has reopened 3 miles south of the Sunset Point Rest Area. Traffic is slow as crash cleanup continues.— Arizona DOT (@ArizonaDOT) May 16, 2014
I-17 update: Southbound traffic is getting by on the right shoulder at Sunset Point. Minimal delays now - but that could change.— Arizona DOT (@ArizonaDOT) May 16, 2014
CLOSED: I-17 southbound, south of the Sunset Point Rest Area, at milepost 248, due to a serious crash. Could be an extended closure.— Arizona DOT (@ArizonaDOT) May 16, 2014