CASA GRANDE, Ariz. — A stream of thick, blowing dust crossing an Arizona highway led to a chain-reaction crash that killed three people in an area where gusting winds often stir up towering clouds of dirt that can reduce visibility to zero.
Twelve other people were injured Tuesday in the 19-vehicle pileup on Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson.
Crews brought in portable lights as they worked past sunset to pry apart the 10 commercial vehicles, seven passenger cars, one tanker and one recreational vehicle that were involved, Arizona Department of Public Safety officials said.
Television footage showed at least one car pinned between two 18-wheelers and others wedged under big rigs near Picacho Peak in south-central Arizona.
Henry Wallace told KPHO-TV he got out of his car just in time before the chain-reaction crashes began.
“One truck hit another truck. Cars start piling into each other, and they pushed that one truck right into me and off to the side of the road,” Wallace said. “I couldn’t see anything because the (dust) was so thick, but I could just hear it, ‘Boom, boom, boom, boom, boom.”’
Medical helicopters airlifted several of the injured to hospitals in Tucson and Phoenix, and DPS officials said at least one person was in critical condition.
Gordon Lee Smith, 76, of Mead, Wash., was identified as one of the people who died. Smith’s wife was injured, DPS officials said, but her condition wasn’t disclosed.
DPS officials on Wednesday identified the other two people who died as Lenny Lubers, 46, of Phoenix, and David D. Bechtel, 51, of Milton, Iowa.
DPS investigators were interviewing survivors to determine the chain of events.
“This could be three, four or even five crashes. That’s where the interview comes in with the drivers and witnesses,” DPS Officer Carrick Cook said.