A horrific, three-vehicle crash, early Sunday morning on I-66 west, turned into a triple fatality that took the lives of two high-school students and a married man.
THE VICTIMS were identified Tuesday morning as Sidney Alex Cardinale and Ashley Megan Myers, both 18 and of Winchester, and Donald Kevin Weeks, 35, of Haymarket.
The tragedy occurred Jan. 28, around 3:52 a.m., 1/10 of a mile west of the Fairfax County Parkway. Virginia State Police say a 2007 Kenworth tanker truck loaded with 8,000 gallons of gasoline slammed into the back of a 2000 Jeep, which then rear-ended a 1996 Volvo station wagon.
The impact ruptured the Jeep's gas tank, which exploded into flames that quickly engulfed all the vehicles. The trailer of the tanker-truck was unharmed so none of the fuel inside escaped.
Weeks was driving the Jeep, and Cardinale and Myers were in the Volvo. The truck's driver, Mac Jerry Kriesch, 43, of Woodbridge, was treated on site for minor injuries, but the three others died at the scene.
"The three bodies were burned so badly that the medical examiner had to use dental records to identify them," said Sgt. Terry Licklider, state police spokesman. "Two 18-year-old kids and a man. I've got 24 years [with the state police] this month, and it's one of those things you never get used to."
He said the tanker truck, owned by M. Pittman Enterprises of Manassas, had just picked up its load of gasoline at the Fairfax Tank Farm, off Pickett Road in the City of Fairfax. And all three vehicles were traveling in the right-center lane of westbound I-66.
But the state police Crash Reconstruction Unit and Motor Carrier Safety personnel are still investigating the incident, because no one knows for sure the circumstances that immediately preceded the chain-reaction collision.
"THE TRUCK DRIVER says that, when he came upon the Jeep, it was stopped in the roadway and its brake lights were on," said Licklider. "We don't know if the Jeep and Volvo had a minor accident or if one of them had a flat tire."
"That's why we're still asking if there were any witnesses or if anyone noticed a Jeep or Volvo station wagon that was stopped, disabled or parked in the roadway," he continued. Anyone with information is asked to call the state police at 703-323-4500.
"My hat's off to the Fairfax County Fire Department because they were right on the scene with their [Hazmat] truck," said Licklider. "The tanker did not catch fire and none of the gasoline spilled. Another tanker came to offload its contents."
The crash shut down that section of I-66 west for two hours, and traffic heading for the parkway exit was diverted to the Route 50 exit. But shortly after 6 a.m., the parkway exit was reopened.
Although the victims could only be identified with certainty through their dental records, Licklider said evidence at the scene led authorities to their families.
"The front license plate of the Jeep was still attached," he said. "We also found Mr. Weeks' wallet in the roadway, with his driver's license — which matched up with his being the owner of the Jeep. Then a trooper went to his home and spoke with his wife."
Licklider said troopers found a license plate for the Volvo lying in the roadway. He said the two teens attended high school in Winchester and the vehicle was registered to Cardinale's father.
When asked whether the crash or the fire was responsible for the triple fatality, Licklider replied, "It's my understanding that the impact from the crash killed all three of them."
He said there were no skid marks at the scene and there's nothing to indicate the involvement of alcohol, drugs or speed on the part of the truck driver — or that his vehicle had any equipment failure prior to the collision.
"[Monday], I talked again with the troopers who responded to the accident," said Licklider. "They took photographs and measurements [at the scene]. But the reconstruction guys tell me it'll be several days or weeks before they can determine who's at fault — however, it's also possible they may never be able to."