HAWTHORNE (CBSLA) – Two people were killed in a collision involving a gasoline-filled tanker truck on the 105 Freeway in Hawthorne Friday morning, sparking a massive blaze which burned for more than 90 minutes and backed up traffic for miles.
The crash involving a two-tanker truck and an SUV occurred at 5:13 a.m. on the westbound side of the 105 Freeway at Prairie Boulevard. The front tanker struck a divider wall, a California Highway Patrol spokesperson said, and within moments, had exploded into a fireball.
The drivers of both the big-rig and the SUV died in the crash, CHP confirmed. The driver of the tanker has not yet been found.
“The one fatality was from the SUV or from the civilian vehicle,” CHP Capt. Doug Young told reporters. “And again, we are not able to locate the driver of the tanker but it appears that person perished as well.”
It took Los Angeles County firefighters more than 90 minutes to douse the flames.
The rear tanker flipped over but did not spill gasoline or catch fire, CHP said. Both tankers were carrying a combined 4,500 gallons of gas.
“The primary tank that was burning, people may ask, ‘why did we not flip that tank out?’” L.A. County Fire Capt. Brian Jordan said. “That would have created another issue with runoff going onto the freeway, and more runoff going into the storm drain.”
Initially, a Sig Alert was issued and both sides of the freeway were shut down. The eastbound lanes were reopened a little after 8 a.m., but the westbound lanes remain closed. The westbound side was so backed up that, at one point, a food truck set up shop in the freeway.
An extra truck was brought in to remove the gasoline from the tanker that flipped over. After the gasoline is safely collected and the debris is cleaned up, Caltrans crews will have to inspect the road and make any needed repairs.
A witness told CBS2 that an SUV was swerving in and out of traffic when it crashed into a center divider. The tanker-truck was unable to brake in time, and also then jackknifed and slammed into the divider as well. However, those details were not confirmed by authorities.
The fire knocked out Metro power lines, and Green Line train service was suspended between the Hawthorne/Lennox and Vermont/Athens stations. Replacement buses were shuttling those passengers. There was no estimate on when train service would be restored.
The cause of the crash is under investigation. No names were released.