- Associated Press - Tuesday, August 15, 2017

BLACK CANYON CITY, Ariz. (AP) - A wrong-way vehicle collided head-on with another vehicle on a rural stretch of Interstate 17 in north-central Arizona, seriously injuring the four people in the two vehicles and partially closing the highway for about four hours Tuesday morning, the state Department of Public Safety said.

Passers-by removed the injured from the two vehicles, which were fully engulfed in flames when troopers responding to 911 calls reporting a wrong-way driver traveling northbound in southbound lanes of the freeway arrived at the scene, the department said.

The wreck - the latest in a frustrating series of wrong-way freeway crashes in Arizona - occurred at about 2:45 a.m. near the Sunset Point Rest Area north of Black Canyon City, which is 45 miles (72 kilometers) north of Phoenix.

DPS spokesman Raul Garcia said the cause of the wreck is under investigation.

But he said impairment hasn’t been ruled out and that most wrong-way crashes involving injuries or deaths stem from impairment.

“We cannot arrest our way out of this problem. This is a social issue that has to be attacked by all of us,” he said.

Garcia said the wrong-way driver and three people who were in a second vehicle were seriously injured and taken to hospitals.

Identities were not released, and it wasn’t immediately determined where the wrong-way vehicle entered I-17.

Wrong-way freeway crashes have killed at least eight people in Arizona this year.

Tuesday’s crash occurred in an area with few alternative routes and where wrecks can create miles-long traffic backups that last for hours.

Highway officials are studying ways to widen I-17, the main route between Phoenix and Flagstaff, possibly by adding reversible lanes in the Sunset Point area.

Within metro Phoenix, the state is moving forward with a pilot program to use thermal camera technology and electronic signs on a 15-mile (24-kilometer) stretch of I-17 to detect wrong-way drivers and provide warnings to other drivers and alerts to troopers.

Gov. Doug Ducey directed state agencies to accelerate the camera project after metro Phoenix saw three wrong-way wrecks in a span of about two weeks.

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