An empty big rig leaving the south I-5 barreled through a stoplight on the Avenida Pico offramp Monday morning and smashed into a Volvo and BMW, sending three people to the hospital.
As of Tuesday afternoon, the occupants of the Volvo--two San Clemente women ages 23 and 25--were still fighting for their lives at Mission Hospital, said CHP Officer Chris Goodwin.
The driver and passenger of the BMW left the hospital by Tuesday afternoon, Goodwin said.
The big-rig driver sustained minor injuries as well, Goodwin said.
The ramps and Pico was closed until around 2:30 p.m. Monday as officers investigated the crash, a CHP helicopter took aerial photos and Caltrans workers assessed damage to traffic signals demolished in the wreck, according to California Highway Patrol Capt. Sandra Houston.
In the back seat of the BMW was a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old, but they appeared uninjured. Houston said their child safety seats likely saved their lives.
It was unclear what caused the big rig's failure to stop at the redlight, but alcohol was ruled out as a factor in the crash, Goodwin said Tuesday.
Mary Johnson, who works at the Burger Stop fast food restaurant near the Pico/I-5 junction, said she saw a woman in the front of the Volvo unconscious after the vehicles came to rest.
Matt Brommer, an employee of the Shell station right off the eastbound lanes of Avenida Pico, said he saw the accident; he rushed outside when he heard the big rig clip the first of two traffic signal posts.
"The semi driver, I don't know if he didn't have brakes or fell asleep or what," Brommer said.
The empty semi ran the red light at the ramp, clipping an SUV that sustained minor damage and demolishing a traffic signal. The truck T-boned the Volvo on the passenger side, causing the Volvo to spin into the BMW, which then clipped a Coca-Cola truck.
The drivers of the trucks and the SUV sustained no injuries. The Coca-Cola truck was drivable, Houston said, and the driver of the initial SUV involved in the wreck was able to drive the vehicle away; he had left by 11:30 a.m.
Both the Volvo and BMW had made turns off the I-5 northbound exit ramp to head west on Pico, Houston said.
The accident occurred around 10:45 a.m. Monday. A SigAlert was issued around 11 a.m.
Goodwin urged any witnesses at the scene who did not talk to CHP investigators Monday to call the patrol at 949-487-4000.