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Chain-Reaction Crash Triggered by Suspected Street Race Kills 3, Prompts Day-Long Closure of 5 Fwy in Commerce

The 5 Freeway fully reopened shortly before midnight on Saturday, nearly 24 hours after a fiery chain-reaction crash triggered by suspected street racing left three people dead in Commerce, authorities said.

Investigators were at the scene of an eight-vehicle crash that killed three, injured four and prompted the complete shutdown of the 5 Freeway in Commerce on Feb. 27, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)

Investigators were at the scene of an eight-vehicle crash that killed three, injured four and prompted the complete shutdown of the 5 Freeway in Commerce on Feb. 27, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)

The fatal collision, involving up to eight vehicles, occurred shortly after midnight on Saturday on the 5 east of Washington Boulevard and prompted the full closure of the heavily-traveled freeway, according to the California Highway Patrol's incident log.

CHP Officer Doris Peniche told KTLA that witnesses saw two Dodge vehicles -- a Charger and a Challenger -- speeding in southbound lanes at approximately 12:01 a.m.

“As they were street racing, the Dodge Challenger – which was in the No. 2 lane -- observed a slow-moving vehicle directly in front of him," Peniche said in an interview at the scene shortly after 6 a.m.. "He attempted to avoid the slower-moving vehicle by changing lanes to the right, and at the same time that slower-moving vehicle changed lanes to the right.”

At that point, the suspected street racer applied his brakes, lost control of the vehicle and collided with the UPS 18-wheeler, causing the big rig to crash through the center divider, according to Peniche.

CHP investigators and coroner's officials gather evidence from Saturday's fatal crash on the 5 Freeway in Commerce. (Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

CHP investigators and coroner's officials gather evidence from Saturday's fatal crash on the 5 Freeway in Commerce. (Credit: Irfan Khan / Los Angeles Times)

The semi became airborne and struck a gray Nissan Sentra that was traveling northbound, shearing the top off the car. It continued out of control until coming to a rest on top of a Ford Explorer where it subsequently became engulfed in flames, a CHP news release stated.

It took Los Angeles County firefighters more than an hour to extinguish the flames from the big rig.

“I was traveling in the No. lane going north. And I just seen a UPS truck go up in the air over the center divider. He was going south," Javier Gonzalez said in an interview at the crash site shortly after the incident. "And he landed in front of me and I just locked my breaks up and plowed into the truck. Everything burst into flames."

The truck driver was able to get out of the burning big rig.

A UPS truck burst into flames after a multivehicle collision on the 5 Freeway in Commerce on Feb. 27, 2016. (Credit: Loudlabs)

A UPS truck burst into flames after a multivehicle collision on the 5 Freeway in Commerce on Feb. 27, 2016. (Credit: Loudlabs)

“He was on fire, he went over the center divider to the other side, taking his clothes off," Gonzalez said.

The UPS driver was killed in the crash, as were two occupants of the Sentra, according to Peniche. Two others in the Nissan were rushed to the hospital in critical condition, and two others from separate vehicles also sustained injuries.

None of the victims have been identified.

Gonzalez suffered injuries when the roof of his vehicle got crushed, smashing down onto his head. He said he was able to get out through the back window after someone opened it for him.

A fiery crash involving an overturned big rig in the Commerce area shut down both sides of the 5 Freeway on Feb. 27, 2016. (Credit: John A. Moreno/KTLA)

A fiery crash involving an overturned big rig in the Commerce area shut down both sides of the 5 Freeway on Feb. 27, 2016. (Credit: John A. Moreno/KTLA)

One person suspected in the street race, identified as 35-year-old Dealio Lockhart, of Whittier, has been arrested, according to CHP. He would face felony vehicular manslaughter charges.

Alcohol and drugs were not suspected to have been a factor in the collision, the release stated.

Authorities were still looking for the second driver, who was in a dark-colored Dodge Charger. A description of the wanted person was not immediately provided.

More than eight hours after the crash, several heavily damaged and destroyed vehicles remained on the water-covered roadway, video from the crash site showed. Burned packages that had once filled the now-overturned UPS trailer were strewn about the freeway.

A fiery crash involving a big rig left three dead and five injured in the Commerce area on Feb. 27, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)

A fiery crash involving a big rig left three dead and five injured in the Commerce area on Feb. 27, 2016. (Credit: KTLA)

A SigAlert was issued, and all lanes of the northbound and southbound 5 Freeway between Washington Boulevard and the 710 Freeway were closed as the area had suffered "extensive pavement and barrier damage."

The freeway's southbound side reopened around 10:30 p.m., Caltrans tweeted, and the northbound side reopened just before midnight, CHP tweeted.

During the closure, CHP officials encouraged motorists to avoid the 5 Freeway near the impacted area. Detours to get around the affected stretch included the 710, 605, 105 and 60 freeways.

The cause of the crash remained under investigation.

KTLA's Ashley Soley-Cerro contributed to this report.