CHANDLER, Ariz. - The eastbound lanes of Interstate 10 were shut down for hours in Chandler on Jan. 12 due to a fiery crash involving semi trucks, according to the Arizona Dept. of Public Safety.
The crash happened near the Chandler Boulevard exit, and five people are dead as a result.
Crash happened after two other crashes in the area
In total, this is the third incident on I-10 in this area on the morning of Jan. 12.
An hour prior, another semi crash had shut down the freeway in Gila River - just south of the Chandler collision. No serious injuries were reported from that crash.
DPS investigators say that both crashes might have stemmed from a backup that had been caused by a semi fire at Riggs Road.
The deadly incident near Chandler Boulevard happened when a commercial tractor-trailer hauling garbage rear-ended two cars after driving into stopped traffic, sandwiching them into the back of another semi.
The crushed cars burst into flames, and the fire spread to both semis.
The tractor-trailer that was hit also was pushed forward and struck two other cars, according to DPS.
Five people in the two crushed passenger vehicles were killed. All the other drivers involved had minor injuries.
A child's car seat was seen in one of the sandwiched vehicles, but no identities or details about the victims have been released. DPS officials say it will take some time before the victims can be identified.
It took about four hours for firefighters to get the flames under control.
The driver of the semi told troopers that he didn't realize traffic had been stopped in the moments leading up to the incident, according to DPS.
Road closures in the area affected traffic. Just before 5 p.m., I-10 eastbound reopened at Chandler Boulevard, but the right lanes remained closed due to the earlier crash.
Read the full DPS report: https://www.azdps.gov/news/ims/91
Loved ones of victims speak
The crash scene took hours to clean up, and it took even longer to identify the victims and notify family members.
Fiancé of one of the victims
On Jan. 13, we spoke with Nikki Johnson, whose fiancé, 37-year-old Ryan Gooding, was among the victims.
"This is my worst nightmare. It’s absolutely unreal. It doesn't feel like this is happening," said Johnson.
Gooding was on his way to work in Coolidge when the crash happened. Johnson started putting the pieces together when Gooding didn't make it to work, and wouldn't answer the phone.
On the evening of Jan. 12, Johnson had a knock on the door, and when she answered, two DPS troopers were standing outside.
"I could tell by the look on his face," said Johnson. "I knew it. I knew it."
Johnson and Gooding have a son together, and they were planning on getting married during the summer, aft 10 years together.
"He was my best friend," said Johnson. "I'm gonna miss snuggling. I’m going to miss his hugs and smile."
Johnson plans to pack Goodings' clothes in airtight bags, so she will always remember his smell. She also had a heartfelt reminder for the rest of us: that no one knows which day will be thei last.
"Go home and hug your family. Tighter than you ever have. Just please. Do that for us," said Johnson.
Mother of one of the victims
On Jan. 16, we spoke with the mother of one of the victims, Andrew Standifird.
"I would say shocked we are all still shocked. Overwhelmed. A lot of emotions. Disbelief," said Sarah Standifird.
Sarah was at a doctor's appointment when she received a call that Andrew did not survive a horrific car crash. At the doctor's appointment, Sarah was receiving treatment for a crash she had been involved in two days prior.
"You don’t experience your first love until you have a baby, and that's your first love, but it’s also my very first heartbreak," said Sarah. "I never had a broken heart until right now, and it will always be a little broken in there."
Andrew and his crew were on their way to a landscaping job when their car was sandwiched in between the two semi-trucks. The vehicle then car fire. Andrew's wallet was later found untouched, laying outside the car, which allowed police to identify him.
"I was hysterical," said Sarah. "I was, like, I just have to see him I just got to see him."
Andrew was from a big family, and he left behind three children and a fiancée. Sarah says her son loved to play music every day, and also spent as much time as he could helping others, and collecting money for various organizations, ranging from those helping the homeless to those raising awareness about sex trafficking.
Sarah says her son's impact will always be remembered. She also hopes something can be done to the portion of the I-10 where the crash happened, such as putting in truck-only lanes.
Experts talk about traffic safety
In the aftermath of a fiery crash along the I-10 that killed five people near Ahwatukee, some are turning their attention to the issue of driver safety.
"It was heartbreaking because I instantly thought that could have been my mom. That could have been my dad. That could have been anybody," Adam Chambliss, a driving instructor at Southwest Truck Driver Training.
Chambliss said he spoke with his students about the crash, as well as the responsibility each one of them will have one day, when they are behind the wheel.
"You look at the driving side of it, where you are looking at what could that driver have done differently, what kind of circumstances -- as to what distracted them to where they didn’t have that reaction time that was needed," said Chambliss.
Chambliss said it's not just truck drivers. He says anyone on the road should take distracted driving seriously, because a quick glance down at the phone or reaching to grab something could mean the difference between life, or death.
"It only takes a second to look away, and you may look back up and it's too late," said Cpt. Keith Gephart with DPS.
Cpt. Gephart says it is happening too much on our roads. He says people need to slow down, increase their distance, and pay attention.
"When you're following behind another vehicle, and they stop or something happens in front of you, it takes you between three-fourths of a second and a second and a half even before you can begin to react," said Cpt. Keith Gephart with DPS.