LAKEWOOD, Wash. — Families in Shelton are grieving after two people were killed by a rogue tire on I-5 Thursday morning in Lakewood.
A third victim was hurt and taken to a Tacoma hospital.
The crash happened around 5:30 a.m. Washington State Patrol says a loose tire smashed through the windshield of a commuter van that had eight people inside. The group was commuting from Shelton to an area near Enumclaw.
Family members of one of the victims tell KIRO 7 that the group had just started some seasonal work, trimming pine branches for wreaths ahead of the Christmas season.
“It’s just kind of hard to believe,” said Ben Mendoza, who lives in Shelton.
His dad, 55-year-old Martin Mendoza Matias was one of the two people killed in the crash.
Mendoza Matias was a husband and father to four kids. Troopers say he was sitting in one of the middle seats when the rogue tire smashed through the center of the windshield, missing the driver and front seat passenger, but hitting Mendoza Matias.
His son told KIRO 7 he would sometimes join the crew for work in that van and would worry for his dad during the long commute.
“I’ve always been scared of that freeway because every day it’s something happening. When I heard my dad passed away there, it just broke my heart,” Ben Mendoza said.
Family members remember Mendoza Matias as someone who liked to joke, was very active in his church, and was well-known in the small Guatemalan community in Shelton.
Mendoza said his dad was also just about to become a grandfather.
“In about a week I’m about to have my first daughter,” Mendoza said.
He says he also knew the other victim who died in the horrific crash, 18-year-old Denilso Tomas Lopez. Troopers said he was also sitting in one of the middle seats. One of the victims was sitting in the second row and another victim was sitting in the fourth row of the van.
“I met him at work, super funny guy and just young, barely starting his life,” Mendoza said.
WSP says it’s not clear yet exactly where the rogue tire that smashed into the van and killed two people came from, but believes it was most likely from an unsecured load.
“We are going to do our best to find out, but ultimately it likely didn’t fall off a vehicle coming down the road or an axel. It probably came from like a bed or was being carried by it,” said Trooper John Dattilo.
Meanwhile, the families are coping with unimaginable loss.
“We don’t have any more words because we are grieving, my heart is grieving and wounded. And I can’t take it anymore,” said Fortunato Mendoza Matais, the victim’s brother.
Troopers are still looking for witnesses to the crash so they can figure out where the loose tire came from.
An unsecured load is a misdemeanor in Washington but depending on what investigators find out, Dattilo said there could be more serious charges in this case.
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