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5 people dead after wrong-way crash in Arizona

5 people dead after wrong-way crash in Arizona
Posted at 11:12 AM, Apr 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-05 13:13:38-04

Five people are dead after a wrong-way crash near Morristown, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

Just before 10:30 p.m. Friday, troopers responded to a two-vehicle crash on US-60 westbound at milepost 123, just before Morristown.

Investigators determined the crash involved a wrong-way driver and another passenger vehicle.

The wrong-way vehicle, a white 2005 Nissan Titan pickup truck, was reportedly traveling without headlights on when it hit a silver 2020 Chevrolet SUV head-on. The impact caused the silver SUV to catch on fire and become fully engulfed in flames.

The driver and only occupant of the wrong-way pickup truck died due to the crash. Authorities identified the driver as 37-year-old Michael Sytsma of Cave Creek.

It is unknown if impairment was a factor in the crash, according to DPS.

The four occupants of the SUV died at the scene. Family members have identified Akayla Cuthbertson, 23, her best friend Jessica Harris, 25, Shirley House, 73, and a teenage boy as the four people killed by the wrong-way driver.

A ball of fire was all that witnesses could see following the wrong-way crash.

“I was like... I need to go over there, see if there's anybody injured, see if we can get them out quick,” says Juan Gutier, witness.

With flames spreading quickly, Juan Gutier says it was already too late. "We didn't hear anything. We didn't hear no yelling, nothing,” says Gutier.

Some witnesses say they also came close to being hit by that same driver. "I didn't think anything of it because I thought it was on the other side of the road still until we are close to me. That's when I had to swerve to the next thing so he can bypass me so he wouldn't have hit me,” says Gutier.

A woman said she saw the driver as well a few minutes before the crash, hoping to prevent a tragic outcome by calling 911. "I said, ‘oh, my gosh, he just almost looked like he was going to flip and then he just brought it back and drifted right back to the other lane.’ He was doing that the whole time,” says Danielle Rohrig, a witness.

She learned shortly after that it ended up fatal. "I was just like, ‘what could I have done?’ It was like a matter of minutes that these people's lives were lost because someone made a dumb decision to drive,” says Rohrig.

Wrong-way crashes have been on the rise in Arizona, according to Alberto Gutier with the Arizona Governor’s Office of Highway Safety.