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4-Vehicle Crash Turns Freeway Into Inferno

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Two men were burned by hot roofing tar Monday in a traffic accident on California 94 during the morning rush hour that caused most of the busy freeway to close for several hours.

The chain-reaction accident occurred at about 8:45 a.m. near the Euclid Avenue off-ramp and involved four vehicles in the westbound lanes of the highway when a load of heating and air-conditioning equipment fell out of a flatbed truck, said California Highway Patrol officer Ron Boggeln.

A van following the truck tried to avoid the debris and slowed suddenly, Boggeln said. The van was hit from behind by an El Cajon Roofing company truck towing a trailer carrying a tank of hot roofing tar. That truck swerved to the left and was hit by an 18-wheel dump truck, Boggeln said. The dump truck then hit the center divider.

“The contact between the two vehicles caused the truck carrying the tar to spin around,” Boggeln said.

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The two men who were riding in the bed of the tar truck--George Vazquez, 38, and Billy Ray Snow, 34--were thrown out. Hot tar flew out of the pot and onto them, Boggeln said.

Vazquez, of El Cajon, and Snow, of Lakeside, were taken to UCSD Medical Center. Vazquez was listed in serious condition with second- and third-degree burns over 25% to 30% of his body. Snow had second- and third-degree burns over 10% of his body and was listed in fair condition.

Tar also fell onto the bed of the truck and ignited materials. The driver, Everardo Muniz, and another passenger, Jerry D’Aoust, who was riding in the cab, escaped without injury.

“All I saw (were) things flying,” said Muniz. “The guy in front of us slammed on his brakes, we slammed on ours. I bumped the guy in front of me and got pushed into the other lane.”

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Muniz said the dump truck was behind him but “tried to swerve to the left as we went to the left. He hit us and knocked us around. He (the dump truck) kept going left and hit the center divider. He ended up right against the guard rail.”

Vazquez’s clothes caught fire, Muniz said. “People were pulling over and offering blankets,” Muniz said.

D’Aoust, who is also a volunteer firefighter for the Crest Fire Department in El Cajon, said, “George caught fire and we had to get him away from the truck. We patted him down and had him (lie) down and roll to smother the fire.”

The truck was destroyed when a propane line leading from the truck bed to a pilot light below the tar tank broke, said Capt. Jeff Carle of the Metro Arson Strike Team. The hot tar and burning materials ignited the propane gas, he said.

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It took firefighters about 15 minutes to quell the fire, Carle said, adding that firefighters remained on the scene for about two hours to cool off the tar and clean up the debris on the roadway.

Vazquez and Snow are employed by El Cajon Roofing, said Kathy Clark, an owner of the firm. Both Vazquez and Snow have been employed there for about 10 years, Clark said.

“They’re both real family men,” she said. “They’re great employees, they always take pride in their work. We’re a small business and we think of them as family.”

Only the men’s wives were permitted to visit them, Muniz said. “They’ve got some pretty bad burns. They’re going to be OK, it’s just going to take a while.”

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All of the westbound lanes and four of the eastbound lanes were closed to traffic, but most were reopened by noon, a CHP dispatcher said.

At that time, the only lanes remaining closed were the fast lanes on both sides of the highway. Caltrans repaired the guard rail by 3 p.m., and all the lanes were open to traffic by the afternoon rush hour, said CHP officer Joe Wolf.


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