SAN JOAQUIN COUNTY (CBS13) — Three people were killed and two California Highway Patrol officers were injured in a crash along Interstate 5 near Thornton early Tuesday morning.
The crash happened around 2:30 a.m. along the southbound side of the freeway near Walnut Grove Road.
CHP says a patrol car was on the shoulder with its emergency lights on, dealing with a big rig that had broken down.
A driver then slammed into the back of the patrol car. The impact sent the patrol car - which had two officers inside - into a ditch while the other vehicle went out of control and crashed into a tree; the other car then burst into flames.
"You hear screaming, yelling – it's a controlled chaos," Thornton Fire Chief Eberen Watkin described the scene, as one of the first to respond to the crash.
Members of the Thornton Fire Department were the first on scene and used the jaws of life to help save the lives of the officers involved.
"It was a very extensive extrication due to the way the impact was, and the CHP cars – they're built even stronger than a normal vehicle," said Fire Chief Eberen Watkin.
Officers say three people who were inside the car that crashed into the patrol car were pronounced dead.
The officers who were in the patrol car have been sent to the hospital with major injuries, CHP says.
Drivers who saw the mangled mess of the CHP cruiser left behind were shocked the officers survived.
"Whoever they believe in was with them, because that right there – that's horrific," said Earl Atkins, a driver.
The CHP says it's likely that speed played a role in the crash, but it's still too soon to tell if drugs or alcohol were also involved. The reason why the Subaru veered off the road still isn't known as the investigation continues.
Thornton Fire Chief Watkin, as well as the CHP, emphasize the importance of moving over for emergency vehicles - saying it could save someone's life.
CHP - Stockton issued this statement regarding the officers:
"The Officers are expected to survive and are doing well. CHP-Stockton is extremely overwhelmed and thankful for all of the well wishes. The well wishes and prayers will be passed onto our Officers. Both will have a long road to recovery and we will eagerly await their return to full duty."
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