SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) --Northbound Highway 17, the main road linking Santa Cruz and San Jose, was closed for about nine hours Thursday after a big-rig crash killed one person and injured seven others.
The accident happened just before 8 a.m. and brought traffic to a complete stop near Bear Creek Road. In the evening, tow trucks were still removing the wrecked cars and trucks that scattered across both of the northbound lanes.
The CHP has been undertaking a very complex investigation to learn what happened. Aptos resident Therese Mohr was driving one of the 11 vehicles involved in accident and was one of the lucky ones. "It's life changing and I just think thank goodness I'm okay," she said.
She was driving northbound on 17, just ahead of the big-rig as it began hitting cars and trucks before jackknifing and smashing through a rail that separates the highway from a frontage road. The two trailers carrying dirt unhitched and one of them hit her Prius.
"It hit me and it forced me to run into the middle divider, the center divide, and I got hit again, but that was all it was. Was my car got hurt and not me," she said.
Six other drivers were injured, one critically. The driver of one crumpled car died when he got tangled underneath the big-rig as it lost control. The CHP says the driver was a 26-year-old man from Santa Cruz.
The big rig driver was not hurt. Ravinder Singh began driving for B.A.T. Trucking only three months ago. He told investigators his brakes started smoking on the downhill grade. "He experienced some brake fade coming down a 6 percent grade, approximately, was unable to control his speed, at which time he started hitting vehicles and the guardrail," CHP Lt. Scot Loetscher said.
Tires flew off their axles. Vehicles spun around. Air bags deployed from the impact of hitting the guardrail. Truck company owner Sunny Singh said the rig went through a safety check the same morning.
"Every day before a driver leaves from the yard, he checks every single thing, anything, tires. If anything happens, he has to report to us. But this is a brand new truck, new trailer, maintenance and everything routine, so everything's fine," Sunny told ABC7 News.
With traffic backing up in both directions by midday, the Highway Patrol had configured the two southbound lanes to allow northbound traffic to use one of the lanes. The Highway Patrol warned drivers to avoid 17 during the rush hour if possible because there's only one southbound lane available with its temporary measure allowing bi-directional traffic.