A U.S. Marine and a man suspected of leading police on a chase through North County San Diego were killed in a wrong-way crash that left two cars unrecognizable on Interstate 5 early Tuesday, the California Highway Patrol (CHP) said.
The grisly crash happened on northbound I-5 near the Las Flores Drive exit when a wrong-way driver in a black truck slammed head-on into a silver sedan just after midnight, the CHP said.
"We could see, as soon as he passed us, he crashed and just a big explosion, just bad," said witness Zach Leja. "He was going so fast, though, just in the wrong way."
The crash killed both the driver of the black truck, a 42-year-old man from San Diego, and the driver of the sedan, a 19-year-old military service member from Utah, according to his identification card, a CHP spokesperson said.
Additional law enforcement sources later confirmed the driver of the sedan was a U.S. Marine. The Marine was identified as a member of the 1st Marine Logistics Group, according to a spokesman in the group.
"Our hearts are with the Marines and Sailors of 1st Transportation Battalion, and we extend our deepest sympathies to the family and friends of our Marine," said Brig. Gen. Bobbi Shea, the 1st Marine Logistics Group commanding general. "We will dedicate all necessary resources to provide help and comfort to those affected by this tragedy."
A third person, a 35-year-old from San Diego who was a passenger in the black truck, was the only survivor in the crash. He was also injured and transported to Scripps La Jolla Medical Center. The Oceanside Police Department said his injuries were minor.
The impact of the crash mangled both vehicles and sent the black truck onto the center divider, forcing the CHP to shut down the freeway for hours to tend to the scene.
The incident began over a "traffic infraction," which led to a pursuit with Oceanside Police, the agency said. Officers on the ground backed off once the driver entered the freeway in the wrong direction but a helicopter continued to track the driver from overhead.
CHP said their officers were not involved in the pursuit until the crash occurred, less than 10 minutes after the pursuit began.
"We called (911) as soon as we could, yeah it was bad. It went by so quick though," Leja said.
It was not clear if drugs or alcohol were considered factors in the crash or what caused the driver to enter the freeway in the wrong direction in the first place.
An investigation is ongoing and shut down northbound I-5 near Las Flores Drive for hours. Drivers were re-routed onto the Carlsbad Village Drive exit and around the crash until lanes reopened at about 5:30 a.m.
No other information was available.