A Mercedes traveling in the wrong direction on Interstate 5 could not be stopped by a spike strip before it crashed head-on into an oncoming car Sunday, California Highway Patrol officers said.
Three people died in the crash just after 3 a.m. in the southbound lanes of I-5 between Manchester Avenue and Loma Santa Fe Drive.
Behind the wheel of the 2006 Mercedes, a man drove at up to 120 mph after abruptly making a U-turn at the San Ysidro Port of Entry along the U.S.-Mexico border. He's been identified by the San Diego Medical Examiner's Office as David Michael Elmore, 29, of Encinitas.
Investigators are trying to determine if Elmore was driving under the influence at the time. Bettencourt confirmed he has three prior DUI convictions in California in the last two years, and he served time for one of them. According to his Facebook, Elmore worked at Seasons 52 as a bartender.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers alerted the CHP as the Mercedes traveled north in the southbound lanes but a CHP official said Monday the vehicle could not be stopped before the fatal collision near Encinitas.
"He drove northbound in the southbound lanes while the Customs and Border Protection officers went northbound in the correct lanes," CHP Sgt. Curtis Martin said.
CHP officers were trying to stop the car or put down spike strips but they say Elmore was going so fast it was hard to get into position.
Also, CHP officers were tied up with another crash at the same time that involved four people ejected from the vehicle.
"There are several things we could have done. We could have tried to run a traffic break, could have tried to spike strip the vehicle, but unfortunately at the time, like I said, the manpower was focused on another collision, couldn't get there in time," said CHP Officer Jim Bettencourt. "I wouldn't say we were understaffed. I would say our resources were focused somewhere else."
Elmore collided with a rental car, a Chrysler that landed on its roof and burst into flames.
The medical examiner's office identified the two people in the Chrysler as 23 and 24-year-old La Jolla residents who were apparently getting ready to go on a trip. Plane tickets were found inside, officials said.
Elmore died instantly. His car did not overturn or catch fire, Martin said.
Drugs, alcohol, weapons or money do not appear to have caused Elmore to turn and run from authorities.
Southbound I-5 was shut down for 6 1/2 hours Sunday during the investigation and cleanup.
Loma Santa Fe Drive is located approximately 39 miles north of the San Ysidro Port of Entry.