Three people were killed in a fiery five-vehicle accident on Interstate 95 in Baltimore yesterday at the start of the afternoon rush hour, tying up traffic on the busy highway well into the evening.
Four people survived - two of them injured, and two who escaped unhurt from the collisions involving two tractor-trailers, two cars and a third crushed and burnt vehicle believed initially to be a minivan.
"It's a mangled mess," said Maryland Transportation Authority Police Chief Gary W. McLhinney. "It's all front-to-rear damage."
The accident happened about 4:30 p.m. in the southbound lanes of the highway just north of the Fort McHenry Tunnel toll plaza.
Two of the victims were pronounced dead at the scene.
A third person died less than an hour later after being flown by state police MedEvac helicopter to Maryland Shock Trauma Center.
Names of the victims were not released last night.
Interstate 95 was closed in both directions until 6 p.m., when the northbound lanes were reopened.
Southbound lanes remained closed last night, with traffic diverted to the nearby Harbor Tunnel Thruway (Interstate 895). The highway was expected to be open by this morning's rush.
Police accident reconstruction specialists were on the scene trying to determine how the accident happened, but the wreckage offered clues.
One of the tractor-trailers appeared to have run into the back of the vehicle thought to be a minivan, which was sandwiched between it and the rear of the other tractor-trailer rig, police said. Later, police said the vehicle was so badly mangled that they were unsure what it was.
A car was found lodged under the rear axle of one tractor-trailer, and another car, with extensive front-end damage, was off to the side of the wreckage, police said.
"The trucks were locked together and had to be pulled off of one another, and the minivan was in between them," McLhinney said, clasping his fingers together for emphasis.
One truck was carrying detergent. Authorities did not say what the other rig was carrying, but determined that it was not hazardous material.
When firefighters arrived, the first car was ablaze and the flames had spread to the tractor-trailers, said Baltimore Fire Department spokesman Kevin Cartwright.
The truck drivers were unhurt. The lone occupant of the first car was killed, along with the driver and passenger in the car off to the side of the wreckage. The two people in the car jammed under the trailer axle were injured, but were expected to survive, police said.
The accident occurred about 10 miles from the scene of another fiery truck crash on the two interstates this year in Howard County.
In January, a gasoline tanker plunged off an I-895 southbound overpass onto the northbound lanes of I-95 in Elkridge and exploded into a fireball. Another tractor-trailer, a pickup truck and a car were caught in the fire, and four people died.
The tanker's driver, Jackie M. Frost, 64, of Finksburg in Carroll County, apparently had a heart attack or some other serious medical condition that caused him to lose control of his truck, investigators later concluded. Frost's wife, Geri Frost, has disputed that conclusion.
Sun staff writer Richard Irwin contributed to this article.