EL PASO, Texas - The driver and the passenger of a tractor trailer were killed Thursday in a freeway collision involving five vehicles and construction machinery, El Paso Police said.
The wreck happened around 2:30am on I-10 East between Americas Avenue and Eastlake Blvd. That portion of I-10 was closed until 11:50am Thursday.
Police say two people were killed, Patrick Charles Van Fossen of McKinney, Texas and his passenger, Keserie Paredes of Van Alstyne, Texas.
Police spokesman Darrel Petry confirmed the construction machinery on the shoulder of I-10 was a factor in the crash. Police said four of the vehicles involved were struck by the machinery.
Police officials said a preliminary investigation revealed the construction machinery was parked in the center median between I-10 E and I-10 W on mile marker 34. It struck several vehicles on the freeway, police said. "The construction vehicle had a protruding conveyer belt sticking out four feet onto the I-10 East inside lane," police added.
At about 2:22 am, the drivers of a 2016 Peterbuilt and a 2007 Walk Tanker Trailer were heading east on the inside lane and the struck the conveyer arm, "causing damage to the driver's side mirror of each vehicle," police said. Both drivers, who have not been identified by police, pulled over to the side of the shoulder and exited their vehicles.
At the same time, the driver of a 2011 Jeep Compass, who has not been identified by police, also pulled over to the side of the shoulder behind the tractor trailers. Police said the driver of the Jeep Compass also exited the vehicle.
Moments later, the drivers of a 2017 Freightliner and a 2018 Great Dane Trailer were also heading east on the inside lane when they also struck the conveyer arm, police said. The collision caused the arm "to penetrate the cab (of the 2017 Freightliner), striking Van Fossen and pushing him to the rear of the cab," police said. Investigators further stated, "the conveyer arm then ripped the sleeper berth off the cab, causing the rear passenger (Paredes) to be ejected."
Police said the 2017 Freightliner and the 2018 Great Dane Trailer continued east and struck the Jeep Compass, pushing the Jeep into the 2007 Walk Tanker Trailer. During the collision, Van Fossen "rolled out of the vehicle onto the roadway," police said.
ABC-7 spoke with an aunt of Paredes, who said the woman was also a truck driver. The aunt sent ABC-7 the following statement:
"She (Paredes) had a beautiful heart, always so happy. She loved her trucking job. She was the sweetest person I knew and the best niece I could ever have. She loved animals, especially her dog and cats. She loved everything and everyone. Her mother and father are so destroyed right now ... I am still trying to wrap my head around what happened. I will always miss her. Our family will never be the same."
Cindy Arrendondo, a witness, sent ABC-7 a photo that showed the machinery sticking out over a concrete barrier into the right lane of I-10 East. Arredondo said she and her boyfriend pulled over to snap the photo and call 911 to make a report, but moments later the crashed occurred.
TXDOT officials told ABC-7 they wouldn't be able to comment until the investigation is complete, but did confirm JAR construction was contracted at the site. ABC-7 called JAR, but they have not yet returned our calls.
"Everybody, including construction companies, have a duty to use reasonable care and avoid foreseeable risk to other people," said Matt Lopez, an attorney with the law firm Glasheen, Valles and Inderman. "I would consider a large piece of construction equipment out on a busy interstate in the middle of the night - I would consider that negligence."
Diego Alvarado, the El Paso area director for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, tells ABC-7 their investigators were at the scene. Alvarado said the investigators are trying to determine the extent of their coverage and jurisdiction.
If the crash happened in the construction site, then it would be a part of OSHA's coverage, since the semi-truck drivers were working. If they determine the crash did not happen on site, then they would close their investigation and TxDOT would continue to investigate.