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DPS investigates causes of 12-vehicle crash: Were drivers hindered by smoke from nearby fires?
Three travelers were killed on IH-35 Wednesday afternoon, January 13, in a multiple-vehicle crash between Artesia Wells and Encinal, according to the Texas Highway Patrol, which is investigating whether smoke from nearby grass fires smothered the interstate and prompted the fatal pile-up.
Investigators are examining the factors contributing to the 12-vehicle wreck that included several rear-end collisions and have determined that smoke drifting across the highway may have hindered drivers’ views of the road ahead.
Laredo residents killed in the crash and pronounced dead at the scene included Claudio Cortes, 46, who had been a passenger in a 2010 Ford pickup truck; and driver Mario Castillo Jr., 49, and passenger Oscar Castillo, 26, in a 2011 Ford pickup truck.
Emergency responders arrived at the scene of the pile-up shortly after 3:30 p.m. Wednesday in the southbound lanes of the interstate near Milemarker 52, some 13 miles north of Encinal, and included Highway Patrol troopers, sheriff’s deputies, and the La Salle County Fire Rescue & EMS. Traffic was halted and logjammed over a distance of several miles during the accident investigation and clean-up.
Preliminary investigations into the crash have revealed that the driver of a 1997 Volvo tractor-trailer rig had entered an area of severely limited visibility due to smoke from the grass fires and that his vehicle had been struck in the rear by a 2005 Kenworth tractor-trailer rig.
“Upon the first crash, a series of collisions occurred,” the Highway Patrol reported from its office in Laredo, “involving a total of seven commercial motor vehicles and five passenger vehicles.”
In addition to the first two vehicles involved in the chain-reaction collision and the pickup trucks in which southbound travelers were killed, the wreckage included a 2020 Cub Cadet freight truck and trailer, a 2011 Freightliner truck and trailer, a 2018 Ford Transit 350 van, a 2016 Volvo freight truck and trailer, a 2020 Freightliner truck and trailer, a 2012 Freightliner truck and trailer, a 2019 Toyota Corolla passenger car, and a 2008 Chevrolet Silverado pickup truck.
The investigation by the Highway Patrol continues this week. There have been no reports to date of citations issued as a result of the fatal crash.