Originally Published: September 1, 2005 11:41 p.m.
CHINO VALLEY – Two vehicles, along with three people occupying them, burned Thursday in a head-on collision on Highway 89 near Buffalo Run Road, just a half-mile north of Chino Valley town limits.
The driver of a Jeep Cherokee, Bobbette Cotter, 34, of Paulden, and the driver and the passenger of a Ford pickup – Nathaniel Babb, 35, of Prescott Valley and his mother Donna, 58, of Paulden – died in the accident.
DPS officer Angelo Trujillo said it appears the 10:40 a.m. accident at milepost 334.1 occurred when Cotter crossed the center-line for unknown reasons into the southbound lane and collided head-on with the pickup that was pulling a trailer full of wood.
Bolger said officers are unsure whether Cotter tried to pass a vehicle in front of her when she crossed into the southbound lane.
At first, DPS detectives and investigators were unable to identify the badly burned bodies of the victims.
“This will be a little bit more extensive and time consuming investigation due to the nature of the collision,” he said.
Trujillo said the jeep did not show any evidence of braking while the pickup left black tire marks on the roadway, an evidence of trying to avoid the crash.
Chino Valley Fire District Operations Chief Jack Miller said, “Both of them (vehicles) were fully engulfed” when the first crew arrived on the scene, he said.
He said a bystander tried to pull the woman out of the jeep, but the heat was too intense.
Miller said he believes that all three occupants died on impact and before the vehicles caught on fire.
Bolger estimated that both vehicles were traveling at or near a highway speed before they collided.
The crash and then the fire reduced the two vehicles to rubble. The front of the jeep went beneath the front of the pickup, while the pickup’s trailer lifted up the rear-end of the truck.
The blaze melted the license plates on both vehicles making the officers’ job to identify the victims even more difficult.
Debris and wood was scattered on the roadway. Although the body of the jeep retained some of its red color, the truck’s color turned into the color of metal exposed to the elements for a while.
Before the first DPS officer arrived, the Chino Valley Police closed the portion of the roadway and diverted traffic to Old Highway 89.
As a result, no significant traffic delays occurred on the highway.
Only a number of tractor-trailers carrying oversized loads had to park along the roadway and wait until it reopened at about 3 p.m.
Bolger said this accident should be another reminder to motorists to drive responsibly during the Labor Day weekend and to be alert and attentive to roadway conditions and traffic signs.
“The volume of traffic in the tri-city area is increasing,” he said. “Passing is more dangerous.”
Labor Day has traditionally been the deadliest holiday for traffic accidents.
Although officers still have to determine whether drugs or alcohol were a factor in this accident, many fatalities occur as a result of impairment, he said.
In less than 24 hours on Wednesday, DPS officers arrested five drivers on charges of driving under the influence during random stops and traffic encounters, Bolger said.
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