Six people survived what could have been a deadly high-speed crash Monday on Interstate 8 in the East County after their vehicles went off the freeway, over a 100-foot cliff, and caught fire.
“Multiple situations could've happened,” said U.S. Forest Service Battalion Chief Jason Kraling, whose crews responded to the incident. “We're just thankful that it turned out the way that it did, that these folks were able to make their way up the hill."
It happened around 10:15 a.m. on westbound I-8 between Pine Valley and Descanso
California Highway Patrol investigators say a San Diego man in a Ford Expedition -- driving 75 miles an hour -- made an unsafe lane change, and clipped the front of a motorhome carrying a Colorado Springs man, his wife and their three kids.
The two vehicles veered to the right, off the road and over the side, hitting the bottom of a steep, rocky ravine and then bursting into flames.
Everybody inside somehow managed to escape the wreckage without being burned, and scramble up the slope as paramedics and firefighters arrived.
"Luckily, no one was seriously injured out of all of this,” said CHP spokesman Kevin Pearlstein. “We've had several crashes where recreational vehicles just open up like a can, is basically what happens. You peel the can, whatever's in there just goes wherever. So, very lucky."
The woman suffered a gashed forehead.
The two men and three kids complained of what were described as "mild to moderate" bodily injuries, and were treated at Sharp Memorial Hospital.
Pearlstein said the driver of the expedition also was subjected to testing there, on suspicion of being under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs.
"I don't know if the gentleman thought he had more room than he did, trying to get around traffic,” he said. “At this point we know the recreational vehicle was only going 50 to 55 -- which is probably a safe speed for him with the wind.”
Pearlstein added that it wasn't immediately clear who might have been seat-belted in, and whether an air bag deployed: "It sounds like maybe the kids were in the back of the RV, so they weren't even restrained. So 'lucky to be alive' would probably be the statement of the day."
According to Pearlstein, high speeds are commonplace along that windy stretch of freeway, known as Horse Thief Undercrossing.
"It's at the bottom of a hill -- it's actually at that point starting to straighten out, level out,” he explained. “That's one of our heavily enforced areas. Our officers are always out there, running radar speeds at that spot."