The northbound and southbound lanes of Highway 400 near Barrie have reopened to traffic following a fiery multi-vehicle crash that left three people dead.
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,” Ontario Provincial Police Sgt. Kerry Schmidt told reporters on the scene on Wednesday.
“Those fuel tankers are both ruptured and burnt. Fireballs, explosions that continued for about two and a half hours.”
Global News has learned a father of nine is believed to have been killed in the chain-reaction collision.
Nikiyah Mulak-Dunn told 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 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.”
Police confirmed Wednesday evening three people died in the crash after first responders combed through the burned-out wreckage.
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.
OPP commissioner Vince Hawkes told reporters at the scene on Wednesday 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.
VIDEO: Drivers who witnessed fiery crash describe scene on Highway 400
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.”
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.”
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 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.
Hawkes said this hwy. 400 crash is the “exact same scenario” as the type of incidents they are working to stop from happening.
Last Thursday, provincial police charged three men with dangerous driving offencesin 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.”
VIDEO: OPP confirm 3 dead in Highway 400 crash
-With files from Jessica Patton and Kevin Nielsen