A father of nine was killed in the chain-reaction collision involving 14 vehicles on Highway 400 near Bradford, Ont. late Tuesday evening. The crash, which created a massive fireball, left at least three people dead.
Nikiyah Mulak-Dunn confirmed to Global News on Facebook that her husband, Benjamin Dunn, was believed to be driving one of the trucks involved in the crash.
Police still need to make a positive identification and have asked for the North Bay man’s dental records.
Police said the crash happened around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday in the northbound lanes of the highway between County Road 88 and Highway 89, about 60 kilometres north of Toronto and 40 kilometres south of Barrie.
“The vehicles that were involved, approximately 14 or more vehicles, five commercial vehicles, at least two fuel tankers,” Sgt. Kerry Schmidt told reporters on the scene.
“Those fuel tankers are both ruptured and burnt. Fireballs, explosions that continued for about two and a half hours.”
VIDEO: Const. Prash Niranjan provides the latest update on the fiery Highway 400 crash confirming the deaths of three people and saying there was no timeline yet for when the highway will reopen.
Police said there was a collision 40 minutes prior to the chain reaction crash about one kilometre away involving three vehicles that may have played a role in the event.
“There was traffic that was queuing because of lane restrictions due to a second collision that had happened just prior,” Schmidt said.
“At some point, traffic was slowing, and the last vehicle in the line appeared to have smashed through all these vehicles and set off a chain reaction, fireball explosions with multiple fatalities.”
Schmidt confirmed during a noon press conference on Wednesday that at least three people died at the scene and several more were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.
VIDEO: OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes says drivers should always be aware of what is around them including what’s coming up behind in the wake of a fiery crash on Hwy 400 that claimed 3 lives.
Police said a forensic pathology team was called to the scene to determine the identity of the deceased.
“We’re going to need help from next-of-kin and we’re working with the coroner’s office and forensics to first get into the vehicles and find out what sort of remains are there, if any,” Schmidt said.
“The damage to those involved vehicles is absolutely catastrophic and I can’t tell you if those people got out, if they’re still inside those vehicles.”
Cause of collision under investigation
Police believe a transport truck carrying fuel collided into another fuel tanker ahead of it and caused a massive fire.
“For a collision of this significance, it would appear that it was a transport truck that came in and launched this chain reaction,” Schmidt said.
“I have never seen a collision scene of this magnitude with this significance. It is almost Armageddon. There are cars, twisted metal, debris everywhere.”
VIDEO: ‘Traumatic’: Drivers who witnessed fiery crash describe scene on Highway 400
OPP commissioner Vince Hawkes told reporters at the scene that it is “likely the transport truck never stopped.”
Police said investigators will be looking at human factors, as well as mechanical issues, to determine what exactly led to the crash.
“There were no environmental conditions I am aware of,” Schmidt said. “It was cool but the road conditions were bare. Environmental conditions were clear.”
A witness who was driving on Highway 400, a stretch of road that has been under construction for months, told Global News he saw the initial crash involving the transport truck.
“I just saw on the corner of my eye a large transport slam nose first into a vehicle transport,” Vincent Di Pinto said. “Basically the second vehicle, the white transport, had literally rode right up the vehicle transport.”
“The third vehicle which was a diesel vehicle carrying diesel fuel, it was laying in the quad, nose first and it was almost entirely engulfed in flames.”
Di Pinto said the trucks continued burning for at least half an hour.
“I got out and just looked back and explosions. One explosion after another. Orange flames in the sky,” he said.
“My understanding is by speaking to the driver of the diesel fuel vehicle, that it was laden with fuel and it was just flames shooting out maybe 200 or 300-plus feet in the air.”
Another driver told Global News he was travelling southbound near the scene of the collision when he hit the brakes.
“I’m still shaking. I can’t believe what I saw, a fireball,” Robert Bianchi said. “I just stepped on my brake because I didn’t want to drive by the fire.”
“I stopped and backed up a little bit. I saw people running over there and screaming. It was crazy.”
Highway 400 road closures
Police said the northbound and southbound lanes of Highway 400 will be closed for the remainder of the day and will not likely reopen until Thursday morning.
“We have the coroner on scene going through the whole area which is absolutely devastating,” Schmidt said.
“Clean up and recovery is unknown. There’s a huge environmental spill as well, with fuel that was leaking and burning at the scene.”
South Simcoe Police have developed an Emergency Detour Route for afternoon rush-hour vehicles driving northbound.
WATCH: Daylight allowed investigators to survey the scene of a deadly pileup on Highway 400, north of Toronto, where at least 14 vehicles were involved.
OPP and officers from South Simcoe are forcing northbound 400 traffic off the highway at Country Road 88.
At 3 p.m., passenger vehicles will be helped by point duty officers to either proceed west to the 5th Side Road or east to the 10th Side Road until they reach County Road 89, at which time they will be allowed back onto highway 400.
“Commercial motor vehicles are encouraged to use either County Road 27 or 10th Side Road as an alternate route. The 5th Side Road is not recommended for heavy trucks,” police said in a statement.
VIDEO: A witness to the fiery aftermath of the Highway 400 crash on Tuesday evening discusses what she was feeling as she saw the explosiveness of the scene and recounts how fearful she was being surrounded by other trucks.
OPP calls inattentive driving a major cause of collisions
The OPP issued a warning to drivers last week over the number of fatal crashes involving commercial vehicles.
At that press conference, multiple victims’ family members spoke about the impact the loss of their loved ones have had on their lives.
Speaking Wednesday, Hawkes said all you have to do is remember those words.
“This is all about the victims — you heard the message they were delivering, how their lives have changed,” he said. “That message of when their loved ones died, they died.
“We have to take this seriously.”
VIDEO: OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes says he’s been moved by the stories of previous victims of crashes and the OPP is constantly looking at ways for prevention.
Hawkes said this hwy. 400 crash is the “exact same scenario” as the type of incidents they are working to stop from happening.
“There is no excuse for a transport truck not to slow down because, as you can see, it’s in a down hill,” Hawkes said. “These trucks are essentially missiles.
“This could have been a hundred times worse, and it’s a miracle that we don’t have 25 lives lost.”
Hawkes said most of the major trucking companies are looking at advanced technology to allow better vision around their trucks but that all of that doesn’t matter if the drivers aren’t paying attention and are distracted.
VIDEO: OPP Commissioner discusses some of the factors contributing to devastating crashes saying more vehicles, more distractions and the pressures of the commercial motor vehicle industry are to blame.
“We can do all the press conferences we want, but we have to get action. If we have to hold everyone to account, we’re going to do it — no matter what it takes, if we can save one life.”
Driver inattention involving transport trucks resulted in 155 deaths between 2015 and 2016.
Hawkes said 12 per cent of all collisions on Ontario highways involve commercial trucks, and that 25 per cent of fatal crashes involve transport trucks.
Last Thursday, provincial police charged three men with dangerous driving offences in connection to the deaths of six people, including a 14-year-old boy, following three separate roadway collisions this past summer involving commercial vehicles.
Brian Patterson of the Ontario Safety League said he wants a coroner’s inquest to examine why drivers of commercial vehicles continue to get into crashes.
“The coroner is uniquely qualified to bring about a review,” he said. “We’ve seen it with vulnerable road users and it’s having a positive impact. It provides guidance. We’ve seen it in other crashes.”
LISTEN: Brian Patterson of the Ontario Safety League calls for coroner’s inquest into Hwy. 400 crash
Patterson believes a broader sector inquest of the commercial trucking industry can also provide better insight on how fatal crashes can be prevented.
“We’ve done a lot of work on training. There’s a lot of work on road engineering that’s been done,” he said.
“But we can’t just consider each one of these a rogue marble bouncing around in an otherwise well-organized pattern.”
Political reaction to fatal Highway 400 crash
At the provincial legislature on Wednesday, Ontario Premier Kathleen Wynne expressed her sympathies to the families of the victims of the crash.
“It was a horrible tragedy and I know that the investigation is still ongoing and my heart goes out to all the victims and their families,” she said.
“And we will in the aftermath of this collision, obviously we will look at what happened, we will be advised on what more can be done to prevent such a crash.”
But the premier also noted Ontario has one of the best road safety records in North America.
“The reality is that Ontario roads are number one or number two, year after year, in terms of safety in North America,” Wynne said.
“So there’s always more that we can do and we will work to ensure that we have the safest roads in North America and beyond.”
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also released a statement on the fatal collision and thanked first responders who rushed to the scene Tuesday night.
“Absolutely devastating news from southern Ontario. My thoughts are with those who lost a loved one in the horrific crash on Highway 400,” Trudeau tweeted.
“We owe our gratitude to the brave men and women who rushed to the scene overnight – thank you for the hard work you do.”
WATCH: Ontario Provincial Police Sergeant Kerry Schmidt provides the latest update on the fiery Highway 400 crash saying that “driver inattentiveness” appeared to play a role in the crash.