Multiple-vehicle crash snarls traffic on Interstate 15 near Escondido

Crash reported north of Via Rancho Parkway

ESCONDIDO, Calif. - Bystanders and off-duty sheriff's deputies were credited with saving a trapped man inside a sedan hit in a fiery chain reaction crash on Interstate 15 in Escondido, and the crash remained under investigation on Sunday, according to the California Highway Patrol.

The crash may have been caused when a truck hit a stopped sedan and ignited it, and bystanders and three off-duty sheriff's deputies kept the fire from burning the driver, said Battalion Chief Ken Slaven of the Escondido Fire Department.

CHP reports said a 47-year-old Escondido man was driving a 2008 Freightliner flatbed truck at between 45 and 55 miles per hour headed south in the freeway's right lane at about 1 p.m. Saturday, according to CHP Officer Jim Bettencourt.

He braked to avoid backed up traffic at the Via Rancho Parkway offramp, but rear-ended a 2007 Chevy Malibu sedan, Bettencourt said. That crash caused a chain reaction that involved those vehicles, a 2007 Pontiac G6 and a 2004 Toyota Solara, he said.

The Malibu became wedged under the truck in the crash and caught fire, Bettencourt said.

Bystanders and three off-duty sheriff's deputies assisted the Malibu's injured driver and kept him from being burnt, according to Slaven. Escondido firefighters had to battle the fire while extricating the man from the heavily damaged vehicle, Slaven said.

He was then flown to UC San Diego Medical Center to be treated for major injuries, Bettencourt said, adding that man's age and place of residence remained unknown.

The Pontiac's driver, a 21-year-old Escondido woman, and passengers, a 21-year-old Camp Pendleton man and a 1 year-old child, were taken to Palomar Medical Center to be treated for minor to moderate injuries, Bettencourt said.

The Toyota's driver, a San Diego man, was not injured, Bettencourt said, and neither drugs nor alcohol were suspected in the crash.

The southbound side of the freeway was closed following the crash, according to the CHP. The crash was initially reported by the CHP in the freeway's HOV lanes.

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