Two killed, dozens hurt in massive I-10 pileup

November 23, 2012 5:24:24 AM PST
Two people were killed Thanksgiving morning and more than 100 were injured in a nearly 150-vehicle pileup that forced the closure of Interstate 10 in both directions near Beaumont.

The collision happened around 8:45am on I-10 East toward Winnie, about 80 miles east of Houston.

"It was like a tornado coming," Juanita Hurst told us. "Bam! You could hear it for miles, and even trucks going on the neutral ground out here hitting cars."

The Jefferson County Sheriff's Office reports two people were killed in the collisions in extremely dense fog. Authorities say between 100 and 120 injured victims were taken to area hospitals.

Authorities are releasing more details about the chain reaction accidents.

According to officials, the two people killed in the Jefferson County accident were from Pearland.

They were traveling on I-10 at Hamshire Road near Winnie when their vehicle was rear-ended by one of the many big rigs involved in the accidents.

We spent Thursday night talking to people who knew the victims -- 64-year-old Vincent Leggio and his wife, 60-year-old Debra.

In a quiet Pearland neighborhood, neighbors were slowly learning the tragic news. The couple, who left this morning heading east to Lousiana, will never return.

While dozens of people were hurt in the unbelievable pileup along I-10, the Leggios were the only ones killed.

Their Chevy Suburban was so mangled, emergency crews missed them during their initial search for victims.

"That Suburban wasn't even visible underneath," Jefferson County Deputy Rod Carroll said. "There was another vehicle in front of it, and we thought that it was part of the other vehicle. That shows you how horrific that accident was."

Neighbors tell Eyewtiness News the couple, who had lived in a two-story corner house in Pearland for two decades, planned a little getaway to a Louisiana casino for Thanksgiving. They owned a business, providing commercial and residential electrical work. They had three grown children and, by all accounts, Pearland was home.

Officials say the pileup was caused by bad weather -- specifcally dense fog. Those who were at the scene were shocked by the extent of the damage and destruction.

The impact of these crashes left cars crushed and SUVs smothered under jack-knifed semis. It left traffic backed up for miles.

We spoke with Tina Butler about the frightening moments she endured as cars were crashing around her family.

"There were three cars in front of me and I saw it about to happen, and sure enough, the first car that stopped, the second car tried to avoid hitting it, but just tagged it on the bumper," Butler said. "And then the next car tagged the other bumper, and then I literally was able to stop without hitting anyone. But sat there with tht panic of who might hit me."

Elsa Valdez and her family were stuck on the highway for three hours.

"Everybody just stopped, no movement, people getting out of their cars," Valdez said. "It feels like n evacuation. That's what it feels like."

This was not the Thanksgiving those traveling through this area were expecting, but it's one that's now putting the meaning of the holiday in a different perspective for many.

"This is a good Thanksgiving for me," Hurst said. "That my life was spared, and my children didn't get hurt, and everyone else family. I just pray and thank God."

All lanes reopened after about nine hours, but crews were still working to clean up the area Thursday night.

Spirit of Thanksgiving
A heartwarming story coming out of the tragic crash is that of five-year-old Damien Ortiz and his mother.

They were heading from Dickison to Louisiana to surprise her boyfriend with a turkey dinner when they were involved in the pileup.

Damien asked his mom if they could use their turkey to make sandwiches for the other crash victims, and that's what they did.

Both of them suffered minor injuries and were checked out at a hospital. We got a call Thursday evening from the boy's mom who said they are now resting in Louisiana with loved ones. They expect to return home Friday.

Damien and his mom were also celebrating some wonderful news Thursday night.

Damien's puppy, Bo, was thrown out of their SUV during the impact. The family said they couldn't find the pup anywhere.

Eyewitness News got a call Thursday night from a woman whose boyfriend -- a wrecker driver -- found Bo at the scene. The puppy appears to be fine and spent the evening asleep in the wrecker driver's truck. We are working to get the puppy reunited with Damien Friday morning.

Our live team coverage of the deadly I-10 pileup will continue. Please stay with Eyewitness News and abc13.com for the latest details.


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