Multiple people were killed Thursday near Denver after an "out-of-control" tractor-trailer roared down a hill and into a traffic jam, incinerating cars and semi-trucks in a chain-reaction fireball.
The driver of the flatbed truck will be charged with multiple counts of vehicular homicide, authorities said in a news conference Friday. Preliminary evidence does not point to a deliberate collision, Lakewood Police spokesman Ty Countryman said.
At least 24 cars and four semis were involved, many of them completely destroyed. Some bodies were still in the wreckage hours later, Countryman said, after the smoldering wreckage and darkness hampered recovery efforts.
The aftermath left a blazing apocalyptic stretch of highway in Lakewood, Colo., with towering orange flames belching columns of black smoke.
One truck was torched through to the engine block. Cars sat in ashen ruins. A pile of lumber from the truck driver was scattered about the roadside, much of it untouched by flames.
Another collision had set the stage for the catastrophe on Interstate 70, authorities said. It was shortly before 5 p.m. rush hour, and a collision up the road had brought traffic nearly to a standstill.
The truck slammed into the jam, "causing a very big chain-reaction crash that ignited and started a fire," Countryman said Thursday, describing the scene as "devastation."
There were "multiple fatalities," and six people — including the tractor-trailer driver — were taken to the hospital for treatment, Countryman said.
Investigators were still trying Friday to determine the cause of the collision and if mechanical failures played a role, he said. It was unclear if what the truck was carrying contributed to the size of the blaze, and Countryman said no signs pointed to alcohol or drugs as a factor.
Video taken around the time of the crash showed a semi barreling down the interstate at high speed as traffic around the truck lurches forward.
"All the cars were stopped; it was a traffic jam. And then this semi truck . . . sped by, going, it must have been over 60 mph, 80 mph, out of control down the emergency lane," said Joshua McCutchen, whose dash cam seems to have captured the truck zooming past him.
McCutchen posted video of the semi along with scenes of the aftermath on his YouTube channel, Burger Planet.
The truck "scared the bejeebies out of me," McCutchen said on a second video he posted on his channel. "And then I just see this huge explosion and fire and smoke coming from the other side of the overpass."
Countryman said he was aware of bystander videos, though he said authorities were not ready to say that the truck was "out of control." The driver was the apparent wood hauler, he said.
The Colorado Department of Transportation said a bridge above the crash suffered damage but it will be structurally sound. The asphalt below, however, was destroyed an the inferno that melted aluminum, said Joshua Laipply, an agency spokesman.
Fire "can turn pavement into rubble, essentially" Laipply said.
Traffic remained closed in both directions Friday near the scene, police said, as the investigation continued.
West Metro Fire initially raced to the scene to extinguish the flames and dispatched drones to assess the area. The fire had been put out by then, the department said on Twitter. But heat signatures still glowed bright red and orange on their infrared camera.
UCLA and Cal State L.A. quarantine hundreds of students and staff in measles outbreak
This city wants to make it illegal to call 911 on people of color who are just living their lives
How angry pilots got the Navy to stop dismissing UFO sightings