A motorist who rear-ended a pickup truck set off a domino wreck on Interstate 15 in Temecula Thursday, causing a tractor-trailer to plow through a guardrail and roll halfway down an embankment, forcing the temporary closure of the northbound side of the freeway, authorities said.
The chain crash was reported just before noon, south of the Temecula Parkway, near the Riverside County and San Diego County line, California Highway Patrol officers said.
Four people were injured in the pileup, which prompted a full closure of the northbound side of the freeway and backed up traffic for hours.
CHP Officer Mike Lassig said the series of accidents started when a 69-year-old Temecula woman at the wheel of a Nissan Sentra allegedly struck the back of a Dodge Ram pickup in the slow lane because she did not brake when motorists ahead of her reduced speed.
According to Lassig, a 50-year-old Downey man driving an 18-wheeler was behind the Nissan and attempted to bring his rig to a stop when the vehicles collided, but he couldn’t and clipped the car, then veered across all traffic lanes, drove through a guardrail and partially plunged down an embankment at the Temecula River.
Lassig said the initial collision triggered a chain reaction, and four sedans and another pickup “came into contact with each other,” with varying degrees of damage.
The Nissan driver suffered moderate injuries, as did the 45-year-old Menifee man in the pickup she hit, according to the CHP.
Two other people in other vehicles suffered minor injuries, the agency said.
Within 15 minutes, traffic was clogged from Temecula Parkway south to the Border Patrol checkpoint at the county line.
A SigAlert was issued at 12:10 p.m. as the congestion worsened and motorists were at a standstill.
Riverside County Fire Department paramedics and other emergency personnel had to stop on southbound I-15 to reach the accident scene, prompting several lane closures on that side of the freeway, too, according to the CHP.
Two northbound lanes were re-opened about 1:45 p.m., but two lanes remained closed for another couple of hours, and freeway traffic was crawling through Temecula and Murrieta during rush-hour, according to reports from the scene.
Lane closures on the southbound side of the freeway were lifted about 1:30 p.m.