Two dead, five injured in wrong-way crash on I-40 east of Holbrook

DPS: 2 dead, 5 hurt in wrong-way crash on I-40
Posted at 8:31 PM, Jun 17, 2018

Two people are dead, and five others were injured following a wrong-way crash that happened Saturday on Interstate 40 east of Holbrook.

According to Arizona Department of Public Safety officials, shortly before 4 p.m, troopers began receiving calls of a wrong-way vehicle driving eastbound in the westbound lanes of I-40 near the Hopi Travel Plaza. The vehicle was reportedly driving at a high rate of speed.

Minutes later, the vehicle collided head-on with a passenger van near milepost 297, causing the wrong-way vehicle to ignite and become fully engulfed in flames. 

The driver of the wrong-way vehicle and the driver of the passenger van both died at the scene, troopers said. The driver of the wrong-way vehicle has been identified as 72-year-old man Sun Valley. 

The victim's vehicle is a gold 2007 Hyundai van and was driven by a 35-year-old woman from Apache Junction. She died at the scene.

Five other passengers in the van were also injured, and taken to a hospital in Winslow for treatment. 

Leaders at New Season Christian Fellowship in Apache Junction told ABC15 the victims were part of a youth group returning home from a church camp in Oklahoma. 

Pastor Heidi Capozzi identified the woman who died in the crash at Kayleen Candelaria, a member of the church who was driving one of the vans full of teens back to the Valley. 

Capozzi told ABC15 five kids inside the van were hurt but survived. One of them was 16-year-old Meckensy Toro, whose parents raced to northern Arizona after getting a call about the crash. 

"I just want to know if she's alive," said Toro's mother, Cheryl. "I just passed the phone off and said 'I have to go."

Toro is recovering from multiple broken bones and a gash to the head. 

"I can't help but having some sort of faith in believing that somebody had protection over those kids because they shouldn't have made it," said Toro's father, Jordan. 

DPS hasn't said why the 72-year-old driver was heading in the wrong direction. 

Westbound lanes of I-40 were closed for several hours while troopers investigated.

A GoFundMe page has been set up to help Toro's family. 

New Season Christian Fellowship is also accepting donations to help the victims and their families.