San Diego Police Department Chief David Nisleit identified two police detectives killed Friday morning in a head-on crash caused by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 5 in San Ysidro.
Chief Nisleit called a late evening news conference after spending all day with the detectives' families. They were identified as husband and wife, Jamie Huntley-Park, 33, and Ryan Park, 32.
"[They were] incredible people who had nothing but the world and life ahead of them," Nisleit said. "It’s just tragic. Any time a life is lost it’s tragic, but to lose two detectives in a traffic accident, it’s a call a chief never wants to get.”
Huntley-Park was a detective with the department's Southern Division and Park was a homicide detective. The couple met in the police academy in 2012 and married in February of 2016, Chief Nisleit said. In July of 2018, Nisleit promoted the husband and wife to detective.
The couple did not have any children, according to the chief.
Huntley-Park was described as a successful hockey player, referee and coach. Nisleit said she had even refereed Olympic trial games.
Nisleit said he know Park well from running events the department participated in.
"He was a remarkable patrol officer who quickly rose through ranks and became a homicide detective assigned to Team 1 of our Homicide Team," Nisleit said.
The fatal crash took place shortly after 10:20 a.m. when the driver of a Honda Civic began traveling north on the southbound lanes of I-5, said a CHP spokesman. The detectives were riding in Park's department-issued vehicle when they were hit head-on.
The couple and the driver of the Civic were pronounced dead at the scene.
"It’s like seeing your kids sitting there and there’s nothing you can do," Nisleit said.
The couple was on a scheduled day off but may have been doing background work on a case, which Nisleit said is not uncommon for detectives on their days off.
Chandler Cline, a cousin of the couple, told NBC 7 they had plans to go to a Los Angeles Angels baseball game Friday night. Cline said he got of work Friday afternoon and reached out to Park to plan for their trip up to Anaheim but didn't get a response. A short time later, he got the terrible news from his father.
"I even called him,” Cline said. “I just didn't want to believe it, you know? [I thought,] he has to walk up this porch right now, give us a hug and just make fun of every single one of us.”
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria also attended the news conference Friday evening. After offering condolences to both families, he thanked the community for their shows of gratitude and appreciation after the tragic news broke.
“It’s the call a mayor never wants to get about two very important officers, a part of our city family, as the Chief mentioned," Gloria said. "I want to first off express condolences to the city, to the Huntley and Park families, two families that you heard from the Chief are hurting tonight. They need to hear on behalf of our entire city – all 1.5 million people – our tremendous gratitude for the lives of Jamie and Ryan and their service to our city.”
Gloria said the community's response helps validate the sacrifices the couple made during their near decade of service.
Paula Alemán, a resident of National City, witnessed the crash and said she, along with others, pulled to the side of freeway to help.
“I ran out towards the scene to see if there was anyone conscious, but there was nobody conscious. Then one of the cars caught on fire and then everyone just dispersed because we’re not paramedics, we’re humans and could only do so much,” Aleman said. “But we tried, I tried.”
The Honda burst into flames after the crash, CHP spokesman Salvador Castro said.
"After everything settled, our officers located three bodies. Two in a white Ford sedan and one in the Honda Civic," Castro said.
Castro said investigators were working to determine where the wrong-way driver entered the freeway.
The crash was the third wrong-way crash in San Diego County this week, and it's an incident, according to Caltrans, that's been on the rise over the last decade.
“We’re seeing more of it, and I don’t know if anyone can understand why," Nisleit said. "I don’t know of it’s just inattention, but it’s happening far too often and in this case it led to death.”
Nisleit did not reveal any new investigative details Friday night. It's still unknown if drugs or alcohol played a role in the crash, and the wrong-way driver has not been identified.
Huntley-Park coached with the San Diego Angels girls hockey club which is planning on establishing a scholarship fund in her honor, according to a club statement.
"The San Diego Angels are devastated to learn of the passing of Coach Jamie Huntley-Park and her husband Ryan Park.
Our coaches and their spouses have a tight-knit bond with one another, and all are in mourning over this terrible accident.
Jamie coached and mentored dozens of youth locally in ice hockey. She was the head coach of the San Diego 19u girls hockey team 3 seasons ago, the 14-16 girls team 2 seasons ago, and the 14u AA girls team last season. All of our families are suffering right now, as they have lost a tremendous influence in their daughters’ lives."