Two people were killed and two others were injured – including an off-duty police sergeant – in a fiery, overnight crash on Interstate 15 caused by a DUI suspect.
The California Highway Patrol said the suspect -- now identified as Jeffrey Levi, 37 -- was driving a Ford Mustang northbound on I-15 near Miramar and Pomerado roads in Scripps Ranch just after midnight when he rear-ended a white Toyota. Levi crashed into a ditch while the Toyota, unable to move, stayed in the middle of the freeway lanes. An off-duty San Diego Police Department (SDPD) detective sergeant in an unmarked SUV then crashed into the Toyota.
Three people were inside the Toyota -- a young woman, her older brother, and her boyfriend. The car burst into flames.
Passersby were able to help rescue the woman, Jiovanna Dominguez, 18, from the front passenger seat. However, her brother behind the wheel and boyfriend in the backseat did not make it out alive.
Witness Todd Holdren said he pulled over, along with another Good Samaritan, when he saw the collision and ran over to the Toyota to help. Holdren said the second Good Samaritan took the lead on rescuing the woman.
“That man was incredibly brave. We were trying to knock out the window. He found a flashlight and he opened the door and pulled that woman to safety,” Holdren explained.
Jiovanna Dominguez and the police detective were taken to UCSD Medical Center and Sharp San Diego Medical Center, respectively, for major and moderate injuries.
Levi ran away after crashing into the ditch but police were able to find him near some homes off I-15. He was arrested.
The CHP said Levi was booked into San Diego Central Jail on several charges including two counts of first-degree murder, two counts of gross vehicular manslaughter while intoxicated, four counts of felony DUI causing injury or death, three counts of great bodily injury caused during the commission of a felony, and four counts of felony hit-and-run causing injury or death injury.
Levi is scheduled to appear in court Friday.
The deadly crash caused closures on the freeway and heavy, lingering congestion. A traffic alert was issued just before 12:40 a.m. as all lanes were blocked on northbound I-15 between Miramar Way and Miramar and Pomerado roads.
By the time the Wednesday morning commute began, the carpool lane was open from Miramar Road to State Route 163, but traffic was stopped. Commuters were delayed throughout the morning with traffic backed up for miles to State Route 52 and Interstate 8.
At around 8 a.m., Caltrans San Diego said two lanes had reopened on northbound I-15 at Miramar Road. Traffic began flowing again, albeit slowly.
Meanwhile, the family of the victims in the Toyota were left to deal with the horrific news.
NBC 7 first spoke with Jose Cano, Jiovanna Dominguez's brother-in-law, who identified his loved ones in the car. The men who were killed were Jose Cano’s brother-in-law, Jesus David Dominguez, 33, and Jiovanna Dominguez's boyfriend, Isaac Felix, 19, said.
The group had been dropping off another family member at the Cross-Border Express and were on their way home when they were rear-ended. Jesus David Dominguez had texted his wife a short time before to tell her he was coming home.
Jose Cano and his wife awakened to a phone call informing them of the deadly crash. From there, they rushed to the hospital to be with Jiovanna Dominguez.
“It’s traumatic. We’re all still in shock. You have moments where you break down but, as of now, what can you do?” Jose Cano told NBC 7. “They’re gone and you’re just left with nothing but questions.”
Jose Cano said the deadly crash hits his family especially hard because they’re already grieving the death of another family member, his sister who died on New Year’s Eve from complications suffered from a stroke a week earlier.
“We just picked my sister’s gravesite yesterday. It’s still fresh,” he added.
Jose Cano said the mother of his wife, Jiovanna Dominguez and Jesus David Dominguez also died about five months ago from cancer.
Now, his family has several more funerals to attend.
“Everything’s hitting all at once,” he said. “When it rains, it pours.”
Jose Cano said Jesus David Dominguez leaves behind two children, a 5-year-old son and 8-year-old daughter, and his wife, Samantha Munoz.
"I'm heartbroken," his widow told NBC 7. "I have nothing to look at my husband at, but photos."
Jose Cano said his family is grateful for the Good Samaritans who pulled over to help Jiovanna Dominguez. She suffered extensive injuries including second-degree burns to 20 percent of her body, a fractured neck, a collapsed lung, a broken femur and a broken bone near her eye. She is, however, expected to survive.
Jiovanna Dominguez's older sister, Tiare Cano, is also thankful.
"Thank God my sister's alive. Someone saved her life and I want to thank whoever saved her life, whoever pulled her out, because if it wasn't for that person, my sister would be dead right now," Tiare Cano told NBC 7.
Jose Cano said his family is also angered by the fact that Levi was allegedly driving under the influence since the tragedy could have been prevented.
“We’re not invincible,” he said. “We need to make sure that we’re taking care of one another.”
Jose Cano said his family is spending a lot of time together and will support one another as they start the healing process.
“We’re just going to be united as a family. Things like this, they can’t divide people. It’s moments like these that really cement family and just being there for each other,” he said.
"It hurts to know that my niece and my nephew are not gonna have their dad around no more," Tiere Cano added. "That's what really really hurts the most."
An online fundraising page has been created to help the family of the victim’s killed and hurt in this crash. To donate, click here.
The CHP has not yet released the name of the SDPD officer hurt in the crash. The police department said the detective sergeant was off-duty at the time of the incident and was heading home from work.