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By Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times
By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
GORMAN — A sport utility vehicle that may have been carrying a family back from the Labor Day holiday weekend crashed Tuesday on the Grapevine section of Interstate 5 north of Los Angeles, causing a chain-reaction pileup that killed a woman and a young girl and injured nine others, officials said.
The critical mountain pass between Southern and Central California was jammed for a mile or more after the accident that shut down southbound lanes at around 5 a.m., California Highway Patrol officials said.
A 41-year-old woman driving the SUV southbound hit the center divider in the Gorman area, hurling her and an 11-year-old girl out of the car. They were pronounced dead at the scene, CHP Lt. Craig Whitty said. It wasn’t known whether they were wearing seatbelts.
The pre-dawn accident spawned others as cars hit wreckage and each other or spun out trying to avoid crashing.
"From that point on, there are at least four more passenger cars and at least one big-rig involved in continuous collisions," Whitty said.
Four people were critically injured and five received minor injuries, Los Angeles County fire officials said.
Their identities were not released but the injured included a grandmother in the SUV and three girls, ages 2, 12 and 16, authorities said.
Officer Adriaan Garcia, of the CHP’s Fort Tejon office, said the cities of residence of the victims were not yet available. He said officers believe all of the children were traveling in the SUV.
“This will take a while to decipher,” Garcia said of the crash.
Three people taken by ground ambulance to hospitals were a 29-year-old woman, 50-year-old woman and 48-year-old man, Garcia said.
Southbound lanes were shut for more than two hours so helicopters could land and take away the injured. A shoulder finally was opened so that thousands of cars could begin creeping through the pass. All lanes later reopened.
Morning commuter traffic may have been swelled by people returning from Labor Day vacations.
"I did see a lot of people towing trailers," Whitty said.
The holiday also may have played a role in the crash, although the cause remained under investigation.
"It was a family loaded in the car. We think they were probably coming back from a long holiday weekend," Whitty said. "At this point we’re thinking the driver may have been fatigued."
Interstate 5, one of the state’s major north-south corridors, carries a heavy mix of truck and car traffic over a mountain pass rising to an elevation topping 4,100 feet about 50 miles north of Los Angeles.
- The Californian contributed to this report.