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 Police unable to locate drivers involved in I-5 crash

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gaboman

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PostSubject: Police unable to locate drivers involved in I-5 crash   Mon Oct 15, 2007 10:13 pm

Police unable to locate drivers involved in I-5 crash
Associated Press

At least nine drivers who apparently escaped from vehicles trapped in a deadly tunnel inferno have not contacted the highway patrol and authorities Monday were scrambling to locate them.

Thirty-one vehicles were involved in the pileup in the curving, darkened tunnel on Interstate 5, but the California Highway Patrol has accounted for only 23 people, including two men and a 6-year-old boy who died.

If all of them were at the wheel at the time of the crash, excluding the boy, that leaves nine unaccounted for drivers. The number could be higher if there were passengers.

Investigators are confident only three people died, but CHP Assistant Chief Warren Stanley said it's a mystery what happened to the others who left their vehicles to the flames.

"We have no idea," Stanley said. "We haven't identified all the vehicles, we haven't identified all the drivers."

As the highway reopened Monday, investigators worked to identify vehicles, some of which were reduced to molten steel in the fire's intense heat. They were also trying to locate drivers.

Authorities said 10 people were hospitalized with minor or moderate injuries from the fiery crash Friday night. Another 10 people escaped the flaming tunnel unscathed.

As of Monday, the CHP had received no missing person reports connected to the crash. Stanley said investigators expanded their search, including contacting local agencies to locate people involved.

Traffic, meanwhile, moved smoothly during rush hour after transportation officials reopened all main lanes of the interstate. The fire-damaged tunnel, which routes trucks beneath the highway on a gentler grade down Newhall Pass, will be closed indefinitely.

"Traffic is moving wonderfully," CHP spokesman John Lutz said. "It's smooth and light."

Three days after the crash, investigators have not determined what caused the pileup inside 550-foot long tunnel.

Lutz said he had been expecting the morning commute to be more congested than usual, as the truck traffic that normally takes the tunnel would be using the main freeway lanes along with cars.

The reopening of one of the area's main arterial roads came quicker than expected. Officials over the weekend initially said the freeway might remain shut for days. Lutz credited state road crews for working nonstop to reopen the freeway.

Meanwhile, commuter train operator Metrolink started running nonstop service Monday with extra cars between downtown Los Angeles and suburban Santa Clarita.

By 6 a.m., passengers were arriving at Santa Clarita's Newhall station. Clearly unfamiliar with how the trains operated, commuters lined up at ticket machines.

"I thought it was an opportunity for me to try the train because even without accidents, the freeway is always packed," first-time Metrolink rider Jose Garcia, 48, said.

Investigators have determined that 31 vehicles - including big rigs and one passenger vehicle - were involved in the crash 30 miles north of Los Angeles.

The driver of the passenger vehicle is among those who escaped, Stanley said.

Investigators are waiting for dental records to help identify the dead, who were burned beyond recognition, Los Angeles County Coroner's Lt. Cheryl MacWillie said.

Two of the victims, believed to be a 38-year-old man and a 6-year-old boy, were riding together in a big rig, MacWillie said. Officials previously said the child in the truck was an infant.

Investigators believe the third victim is a man, MacWillie said.

Several trucks in the crash burst into flames and the fire spread from vehicle to vehicle. Flames shot nearly 100 feet in the air outside the tunnel and reached temperatures as high as 1,400 degrees.

Truckers use I-5, the main West Coast interstate linking Mexico and Canada, to haul produce from the Central Valley to Southern California and to move goods north from the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. It is also a major route from Los Angeles to northern suburbs.

State Transportation Department district director Doug Failing said investigators were trying to determine the extent of the damage to the steel and concrete tunnel. The fire burned so intensely it could have changed the chemical properties of the concrete and weakened it.

There is no schedule for reopening the damaged tunnel.

State transit officials installed supports to buttress the tunnel's walls and roof.

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a state of emergency in Los Angeles County, which will allow the state to deploy emergency workers and equipment and give aid to local government.

The 1970s-built tunnel, with its long curve and darkness, has long been regarded by truckers as one of the most dangerous areas of the freeway. State transit authorities said the tunnel was safe as long as drivers were careful.

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PostSubject: Re: Police unable to locate drivers involved in I-5 crash   Mon Oct 15, 2007 10:14 pm

That's kind of freaky, 9 people just going poof like that.

If it was just one or two, it wouldn't be unusual to me... but, uh, so many...

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