Three killed, 12 injured after dust storm on I-10 causes 19-car pileup

By Greg Grisolano, Land Line staff writer | 10/30/2013

Authorities with the Arizona Department of Public Safety are still trying to piece together details of a 19-vehicle crash that killed three people and injured a dozen more.

The crash occurred around noon on Tuesday, Oct. 29, when 30 mph wind gusts whipped up a dust storm that blackened the skies on westbound Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson, according to DPS spokesman Bart Graves.

Graves said the wreck happened at Pichaco Peak, about 40 miles north of Tucson, and involved at least six tractor-trailers. Interstate 10 is a heavily-traveled commercial traffic route between Phoenix and Tucson.

“There’s farmland there and if it’s recently tilled, the dust becomes very fine. If there’s any kind of major wind situation, it just whips up that dust to the point where there’s so much of it it’s hard to see,” he said.

Graves said investigators are still working to piece together some of the details regarding the crash, which became a chain reaction that eventually ensnared 19 vehicles.

DPS officials have identified the three drivers who were killed in the crash: Gordon Lee Smith, 76 of Mead, Wash.; David D. Bechtel, 51, of Milton, Iowa; and Lenny Lubers, 46, of Phoenix.

Eleven of the vehicles involved in the collisions were commercial vehicles.

At least three of the 12 injured victims are in serious condition. Both the eastbound and westbound lanes of I-10 were shut down for several hours on Tuesday, after a non-injury crash occurred in the eastbound lane as drivers slowed down to look at the wreck.

Graves said this is at least the third incident in as many years where blowing dust has led to a multi-vehicle crash on that particular stretch of I-10. He said drivers need to be prepared to pull over to the side of the highway and wait it out, rather than trying to push through a dust storm.

“It becomes very dark suddenly on the highways in broad daylight. I think people panic when they see that,” he said. “… But we advise people in a dust storm situation to get off the highway as soon as it’s safe to do so. As far off as possible. Take your foot off the brake and turn your lights off and wait for it to pass. The problem that we see is people power their way through this, thinking they can outrun the storm, and this is what happens.”

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