Editor's note: On Sunday, April 28, the Jefferson County coroner's office released the names of the four people killed in the Interstate 70 accident described below. Learn more in our post "Meet Stan Politano, One of Four Victims in Massive I-70 Crash." Continue for our previous coverage.
By late Friday, April 26, both lanes of Interstate 70 were reopened following a horrific, multi-vehicle crash in the eastbound lanes near the Colorado Mills Parkway exit in Lakewood a day earlier that resulted in numerous injuries and fatalities.
Also on Friday, authorities revealed the number of victims: four. The accident was reportedly caused by a semi-truck allegedly driven by Rogel Mederos-Aguilera, 23, that careened out of control into traffic that had stopped because of a previous smash-up between a school bus and another semi approximately a mile away. Current estimates say that 28 total vehicles were involved and ten people were injured.
Lakewood police also say that Mederos-Aguilera has been arrested on suspicion of vehicular homicide.
Westbound I-70 traffic approaching the metro area is being diverted onto Sixth Avenue and other major east-west alternative routes are expected to fill up quickly as the morning rush hour moves forward.
The first tweet about the crash from the Colorado Department of Transportation, issued at 5:38 p.m. on Thursday, April 25, makes the incident seem almost routine. The message reads: "I-70 EB: Crash at Exit 281 - Peoria Street. Rollover crash blocking all lanes."
Shortly thereafter, at 5:54 p.m., CDOT updated the information with more details: "I-70 EB/WB: Road closed at Exit 262-US 40; Colfax Ave. Closed both directions Colfax to Denver West, alternate routes include Colfax, 6th Avenue, or C-470. Long delays expected." At 9:01 p.m., the department added: "I-70 EB/WB: Road closed between Exit 261-US 6; 6th Ave and Exit 265-CO 58."
The Lakewood Police Department also provided Twitter updates throughout the evening. Early on, the LPD revealed that there had been at least one fatality. But at 9:40 p.m., the news got grimmer: "Highway will remain closed at least overnight. We can confirm that there are multiple fatalities and 6 others taken to local hospitals."
Another Lakewood Police Department note reads: "Denver West Parkway bridge over I-70 believed to have suffered heavy damage. Fire remains on scene as hotspots remain."
Agent Ty Countrman, the LPD's public-information officer, went over this information and more during a late-night news conference seen here.
West Metro Fire's tweets divulged that "we had one...firefighter who was injured on scene while working the vehicle crash and fire on I-70 near Denver West. He was hit by debris when potentially a tire exploded. He has minor injuries."
In the meantime, the agency sent up a drone to map the scene, and it revealed that even after the fire was extinguished, heat signatures continued to register on infrared, likely from the engine blocks of the vehicles that had been involved.
The weekend closure of I-70 through the Central 70 work zone earlier this month gave officials the opportunity to reroute traffic on the interstate through the Denver metro area. They'll likely draw on that expertise this morning.
Alternate routes suggested to commuters by Denver7 vary with the direction being traveled.
Those heading eastbound can take Sixth Avenue to Kipling Street in order to connect with I-70. Another option is to take Sixth and exit at Indiana, then take Colfax and Youngfield to West 32nd Avenue's eastbound I-70 ramp. Westbounders can also turn left on Sixth Avenue in Golden and head to Highway 58 en route to eastbound I-70.
Those headed west can exit at Highway 58, which provides access to either eastbound C-470 or westbound I-70.
Lakewood police tweeted at 5:55 a.m. that the closure would linger in both lanes for "several more hours" of investigation. Additionally, personnel must find the bridge in the crash zone to be safe and stable and repair significant damage to the roadway before traffic will be allowed to flow once more. As such, a 7:25 a.m. LPD tweet extended the closure period, stating: "Highway not expected to open until tomorrow."
This post has been updated with information about total vehicles involved, the number of individuals killed and the arrest and subsequent identification of a semi-truck driver on suspicion of vehicular homicide, as well as the inclusion of his booking photo.
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