One man dead after chain-reaction crash at Altamont Pass

His wife was his front-seat passenger, and suffered serious concussion injuries. She was flown by a Reach helicopter to Eden Medical Center in Castro Valley where her condition was upgraded from critical to serious.

"Yeah which is really sad, I'm really sorry to hear that," student Hilary Tong told KTVU as she waited with three college friends. They were on their way back to school from spring break when the minivan they were in was rear-ended.

They were among the uninjured who managed to climb out of their cars. Ambulances were called for five people, all with minor to moderate injuries.

"The family right behind us had two kids, so automatically the parents jumped out and took the kids out," recounted Bianca Tong. "And no one really waited to be told to get out. We just got out on our own ."

The students said many children were crying, but people were calm, and helping each other.

"Traffic was going fine and then we had a sudden stop," recalled Alex Jasper. "Just like a violent jerk reaction. When you come to a sudden stop and then suddenly something just pushes you."

The stretch where the pile-ups occurred is a construction zone and there is no shoulder. The speed limit is 55, but the crashes were in the fast lane, likely moving much swifter than 55.

"They're coming in kind of fast, and coming over the hill" observed Sgt. Azevedo, who recommends drivers employ a "high visual horizon," which means looking past the bumper in front of you.

"Always be looking ahead because your danger is going to be up there," elaborated Azevedo. "Maintain a safe following distance -- three seconds --and if you do that, you can avoid a lot of these things."

The eastbound lanes of 580 didn't reopen completely until 8:30 p,m,, creating a massive back-up.

After interviewing drivers and reconstructing the crashes, CHP found no reason for the cars to have come to such a sudden stop beyond heavy traffic.