PHOENIX - Three people died Friday morning in a crash involving a wrong-way driver on I-17 near Greenway Road, according to the Arizona Department of Public Safety.
The crash happened after 2 a.m.
DPS investigators said the wrong-way driver was spotted heading south in the northbound lanes of I-17 near Pinnacle Peak Road.
The 911 caller who reported the emergency estimated the wrong-way driver was driving about 80 miles per hour.
Six miles south -- still in the northbound lanes -- the at-fault driver slammed into another car headed north.
Both vehicles were a total loss.
"The crush damage from that firewall, the engine compartment is pretty much in the passenger's compartment," said Raul Garcia, spokesperson for DPS.
He said a 22-year-old man was the wrong-way driver while the two victims in the other car were sisters. Karli Arlene Richardson, 20, and her sister Kelsey Mae Richardson, 18, both of Mooresville, North Carolina, died in the crash, the Arizona Department of Public Safety said.
The two drivers were students at Grand Canyon University. They were identified as Karli Richardson and Keaton Allison Saturday afternoon. The school released a statement Friday:
It is with great sorrow and heavy hearts that we share the news that three people, including two students from Grand Canyon University, were killed in a wrong-way driver accident last night on Interstate 17. Names have not been released pending notification of families. As a close-knit community of students, faculty and staff, please keep these families in your thoughts and prayers during this tragic time. Pastor Tim Griffin’s office and the entire Student Affairs staff will be available in Building 26 to assist any students who need support or counseling.
There are two services planned for the students, but neither is open to the media or the public.
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Northbound I-17 were closed for much of the morning rush-hour commute, but reopened just before 9 a.m.
"It is kind of scary, because it could happen to anyone," said Gabriella Allister, a junior at GCU.
It's scary for Allister because she understands how easily it could happen to the average driver.
“When I first moved here, the intersections were so confusing, with the how big they are, getting on and off the freeway. I have almost, accidentally --100 percent sober ... went the wrong way but caught myself," she said.
While that may be her experience, DPS is working to determine if alcohol was a factor in this crash.“The majority of these wrong-way crashes -- 90 percent of them -- are impaired drivers," said Garcia.