THORNTON, Colo. (AP) - Police in suburban Denver were investigating Friday why an SUV careened through rush-hour traffic, triggering a crash that killed a family of five and injured four others.
Police said Monica Chavez, 33, of Denver was driving a Ford Expedition at a high rate of speed Thursday in Thornton, just north of Denver, when she crossed over into oncoming traffic, hit a car, sending her SUV airborne and crashing into the top of a pickup truck.
All five people - a husband and wife and their children - inside the truck were killed, the Adams County coroner's office said. The family from Thornton were identified as Randy Stollsteimer, 34, Crystal Stollsteimer, 31, and their children, 12-year-old Sebastian, 9-year-old Darrian and 7-year-old Cyrus.
The crash occurred as Chavez and her two children headed south on a major thoroughfare, Thornton police spokesman Matt Barnes said.
He said witnesses told police that the SUV was being driven erratically and crossed into the northbound lanes. The vehicle then traveled into an intersection where it hit the rear end of a Mazda sedan, struck the median and then flew through the air, landing on top of the pickup, Barnes said.
The SUV then smashed into a mattress store, slightly injuring one person inside from flying glass and causing extensive damage to the building.
Chavez and her children, a 6-year-old boy and a 10-year-old girl, and a man who was alone in the Mazda, Victor Omar Madrid-Martinez, 48, were hospitalized. Barnes said he didn't have any details on their conditions.
KUSA-TV reported that investigators initially believed four people died, but found a fifth body in the truck a few hours after the accident.
"It is a very horrific traffic accident," Barnes said during a news conference Friday. "In my 30-year career, I've never seen something of this magnitude."
Two days before the crash, Chavez pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of third-degree assault and was sentenced to two years of probation, according to The Denver Post. Court documents show the charge resulted from an arrest last November.
Julio Sanchez, a friend and neighbor of Chavez, told the Post that Chavez was the victim of false accusations in the case that involved three young women fighting in the street outside his house
"They're really good people," Sanchez said of his neighbors.
Friends and family of the five who died in the accident stopped by the accident location to add balloons, stuffed animals and flowers to a growing memorial, according to KUSA-TV.
"It's fitting that they were all together," Alejandro Aldaco, Crystal Stollsteimer's uncle, told the Post. "They were always together."