Driver charged after passengers die in I-17 crash

"This is the worst day we've seen for the morning commute in months," - DPS on crashes on Interstate 17 and Loop 202.

Interstate 17 was backed up for miles after two people were killed when a vehicle slammed into the back of a semi-truck. The driver of that vehicle faces multiple charges.

The freeway was shut down through the morning rush hour.

It's been a deadly 24 hours on Valley freeways, six people were killed within that time span, and now DPS says they are taking action in hopes of saving lives.

Sunday afternoon three people were killed when a Chevrolet Tahoe blew a tire, among the victims a 15-year-old boy and an 11-year-old girl.

Monday morning a truck driver hauling dirt crashed into a concrete wall on the Loop 202 near Alma School, that driver was killed.

And the crash on I-17 snarled morning traffic, a semi truck pulled off to the shoulder of the southbound lanes of I-17 at Dixileta around 6 in the morning. 

The driver placed reflecting triangles up around the truck to alert drivers, but for one man those weren't enough.

"The van was coming southbound, drifted over to the shoulder and rear-ended the back of the semi truck," said DPS spokesperson Tim Case.

Two passengers in the van, 26-year-old Jonathan Branson and 34-year-old Misty B. Sanchez, were pronounced dead at the scene. The driver, 37-year-old James E. Washington, was taken to the hospital and released.

He was charges with two counts of 2nd degree murder, criminal damage and endangerment.

Trooper Case says there were no skid marks indicating the man attempted to slow down. 

"As for the truck driver, he was in the truck at the time, he's a little shaken up, but he's fine, no injuries, he wasn't transported but he's still on scene cooperating with us," said Case.

The AZ Department of Public Safety held a news conference to address the recent crashes. Colonel Frank Milstead, DPS's director, says the man driving the van may have been impaired.

"It's apparent that the driver of that vehicle was impaired by drugs," said Col. Frank Milstead.

He says a lack of seat belt use is also a problem, one of the passengers who was killed in the crash wasn't wearing one. 

Deadly car crashes are up this year according to Milstead, and troopers will be out in force.

"With what we're seeing right now with speed, with following too closely, and then again the lack of usage of seat belts, you're going to see a larger presence of Arizona Highway Patrol and State Troopers out there on the roadways, and more citations issued," he said.

DPS says drivers need to look out for one another, be patient, and courteous while driving.

So far no charges have been filed.
 

I-17 South at Dixileta, only HOV lane is open. All other lanes closed. Ramp from L-303 to SB I-17 closed. Delays to SR 74 (Carefree Hwy).

— Arizona DOT (@ArizonaDOT) July 27, 2015
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