Three people were killed and a fourth person injured in a fiery two-car crash on southbound Interstate 5 in Oceanside on Christmas Day.
The collision happened around 5:19 p.m. Monday on I-5 southbound, near SR-76 in Oceanside, according to California Highway Patrol. Two cars collided and a third car later sideswiped one of the vehicles, CHP officials said.
The crash began when an Escondido man driving a 1996 Nissan sedan attempted to exit SR-76 and suddenly tried to return to the main freeway lanes. The vehicle struck a concrete barrier and barrels on the side of the road, became airborne, and landed on the right shoulder.
The second driver, a 65-year-old woman from National City, then rear-ended the 1996 Nissan with her 2016 Nissan Sentra, Medical Examiner officials said. Both vehicles skidded across multiple lanes and caught fire in the middle of the freeway.
A 38-year-old man from Huntington Beach was driving a truck that then sideswiped the 2016 Nissan, pushing it into the fast lane. His vehicle sustained property damage only, according to CHP. That driver was not hurt in the crash.
Witnesses called 9-1-1 to report the crash, and reportedly pulled the victims out of the vehicles and into the left shoulder of the freeway. Paramedics rushed to the scene, according to the Medical Examiner.
The Escondido man driving the 1996 Nissan was pronounced deceased by first responders.
The rear-right passenger of the 2016 Nissan, Jose Delos Reyes Cortez, 80, was pronounced deceased at the scene due to fatal trauma, according to CHP. The front-right passenger, Ruth G. Cortez, 80, was taken to the Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla where she was pronounced deceased. The two victims were married, and deacons at the Paradise Valley Seventh Adventist Church.
"It is a big loss in our church because they help a lot in our service, whatever they can do to help," said Edwin Camacho, a fellow deacon of the church.
The church pastor, Will James, said the couple will be greatly missed because they were "extremely important" and very active within the church family.
They were also related to the driver of the 2016 Nissan, Cherry Nunez. Nunez survived the crash with moderate injuries and was taken to Scripps La Jolla Hospital, although her current condition is unknown.
One witness was heading home from a Christmas celebration when she saw the crash, and she and her family tried to help the victims.
"It's one of things tings where everyone thinks someone will be there to help the situation, but taking the initiative felt a lot better," said 23-year-old Lauren Kossy.
She used CPR training to try and revive Jose Cortez while waiting for first responders.
Officers closed all lanes of I-5 southbound for several hours Monday and authorities diverted traffic off at Harbor Drive. A Sig Alert was issued for the area.
CHP said the collision, and the sobriety of the driver in the initial collision remains under investigation.
No further information is available.