21 vehicles involved in Hwy 1 crash in Santa Cruz

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There were some terrifying moments for dozens of drivers on a section of southbound Highway 17 in Santa Cruz Tuesday morning after a runaway big rig’s crash sparked a 21 vehicle pile-up.

The initial impact was so severe, tow trucks were needed to separate two vehicles involved in the massive accident just off Highway 17. CHP officers say the stretch of roadway, near the Highway 1 intersection, is notorious for crashes. 

“The initial investigation revealed that the break’s failed,” said Grant Boles, a sergeant with the CHP Santa Cruz office.

He said the truck, loaded with clay and traveling from San Jose to Santa Cruz, was being driven between 35-40 miles per hour when it first hit a Nissan Sentra. That collision sparked a fire that melted the front end of the truck’s cab into the rear of the Nissan. Investigators say after the initial collision with the Nissan, the big rig traveled about a thousand feet, sparking a 21 vehicle pile-up.

“The cars were on the overpass and there was no way for them to pull over and get out of the way,” said Paul Horvat of the Santa Cruz Fire Dept.

At least 11 people, including the truck’s driver were injured. Three are in critical condition, and the other eight suffered minor injuries. Officials say it’s a miracle there was no loss of life.

“Santa Cruz county, we’ve seen this before unfortunately. On Highway 17 we’ve had an infant killed on a major incident just like this,” said Boles.

The roadway around the crash area was closed for several hours causing traffic back-ups, as crew cleared debris. The roadway was reopened more than five hours after the accident. Officers say their investigation will determine if the driver will face citations for improper use of his breaks, or if a mechanical failure caused the damage.