Low visibility from dust was most likely to blame for three deaths and more than a dozen injuries during a multi-vehicle crash Tuesday on I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson, Ariz.
Sweeping dust engulfed the area, causing a 19-vehilce pileup near Picacho Peak State Park, the Arizona Department of Public Safety told Phoenix CBS affiliate KPHO. The crash occurred around 12:30 p.m. local time Tuesday and closed down the highway for nearly seven hours.
"It looks like one big event right now, but in reality it's probably a series of collisions," DPS Capt. Brian Preston told the station. "So you may have collisions one and two that became part of three and four."
Three people were killed in the I-10 crash, including 76-year-old Gordon Lee Smith of Mead, Wash. The names of the two other victims have not been reported.
The Arizona Republic reported that Smith’s wife was among the dozen or more people injured in the I-10 crash. The severity of the injuries ranged from serious to life-threatening, DPS spokesman Bart Graves told the paper.
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The cause of the crash is still under investigation, but authorities believe human error resulting from low visibility due to the dust may have been the main factor.
A forecast for the area at the time of the accident on Tuesday showed that blowing dust was present in the area, the Republic reported, citing the National Weather Service.
NWS official Marvin Percha of Phoenix said there was also a dust storm warning for the area shortly after the crash.
“They just happened to be in a channel where dust picked up easily,” he said.
Witness Henry Wallace described the collision for KPHO. "One truck hit another truck," Wallace said. "Cars start piling into each other and they pushed that one truck right into me and off to the side of the road." Wallace got out of his truck shortly after, unhurt.
"I couldn't see anything because the sand was so thick, but I could just hear it, 'Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.’”