RIO RANCHO, N.M. — Three people are dead and 24 injured following a massive wreck Sunday morning involving a bus, semi-truck, passenger car and pickup just north of Bernalillo on Interstate 25, according to Sandoval County authorities.
The interstate was closed in both directions between the U.S. 550 and Algodones exits for nearly 12 hours as investigators processed the complex, sprawling scene. The roadway reopened just before 2 p.m. Sunday.
“This is definitely one of the worst accidents that I’ve seen in my career,” said Sandoval County Fire Chief James Maxon at a news conference Sunday morning. “A lot of agencies involved, we have a lot of patients, we have a lot of critical patients.”
Sandoval County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Keith Elder said the first in a series of related crashes happened around 2 a.m. when a southbound passenger car rear ended a pickup truck, sending the truck into the interstate median. The driver of the car was ejected and killed.
“At that point, I’m told that the (car) was disabled to the point that they didn’t have any lights that were visible to any other vehicles,” Elder said.
The driver of an El Paso – Los Angeles Limousine Express, Inc. bus, also traveling south, came upon the wreck, “took evasive action to avoid the car and the ejected driver,” and lost control. The bus rolled onto its side and landed across both northbound lanes of the interstate.
A semi-truck headed north swerved to avoid the bus, sideswiped it, and crossed southbound I-25 and a frontage road before coming to a stop at the bottom of an embankment.
Aside from the driver of the passenger car, it’s not clear who else was killed or which vehicle they had been traveling in. Names of the deceased have not been released, and Elder said relatives have not yet been notified.
“The first unit arrived on scene to find a bus on its side with patients trapped inside,” Maxon said. “Patients were being rescued by law enforcement and let out through the windshield opening.”
In the end, fire crews had to remove bus seats using hydraulic cutters in order to free all of the passengers, a process that Maxon said took well over an hour.
A total of 24 patients were transported to five area hospitals. In total, 38 people, including the three who were killed, were involved in the crash.
The bus company was unable to immediately provide information about the origin or destination of the bus.
The wreck remains under investigation.