THATCHER — A man lost his life Friday afternoon after he sped through a red light in a stolen car and collided with two other vehicles.
Authorities were dispatched to the intersection of Reay Lane and U.S. Highway 70 at about 3:50 p.m. regarding a five-vehicle collision. Calls to the County Dispatch started coming in regarding a red car speeding through Safford and Thatcher between 80 to 100 mph shortly prior to the crash. The car was later deemed to be a red 2013 Dodge Challenger that was reported stolen from Kempton's Chevrolet at 715 W. U.S. Highway 70, in Safford.
Officers from the Graham County Sheriff's Office, Pima, Safford and Thatcher Police Departments cordoned off the section of U.S. Highway 70. The Thatcher Fire Department arrived on scene at about 5:30 p.m. and used the Jaws of Life to free the driver of the Challenger, David Cameron Masterson, 47, of Safford from the mangled mess. Masterson was pronounced dead at the scene and was removed by Vining Funeral Home. Officers and paramedics on scene reported they could smell alcohol on Masterson's person. His blood was sent to the Arizona Department of Public Safety's Crime Lab to complete testing for intoxication.
According to drivers who were westbound, Masterson apparently saw a police car as he traveled westbound through Safford and began to speed even though he was not actually being pursued by law enforcement.
Katie Dowdle and Jarett Gilbert were on the second story balcony of the Cota Apartments located near the intersection of Reay Lane and U.S. Highway 70 when they witnessed the crash. They said the Challenger was westbound at a high rate of speed when he ran a red light and collided head on into a gray 2012 Ford F-150 crew cab 4x4 truck that was turning eastbound onto U.S. Highway 70 from Reay Lane.
Surveillance footage taken from Reay Lane Park shows the initial impact at the intersection and corroborates several witness statements. After the crash, good Samaritans from a nearby auto body shop, the park and the apartments all came running to see if they could help the wounded.
The driver of the truck, Christy A. Alaniz, 33, of Thatcher, was later airlifted from the scene by an AirEvac-21 helicopter that landed at the Thatcher soccer field and flown to the University of Arizona Medical Center-University Campus in Tucson. Alaniz allegedly suffered two punctured lungs, a broken collarbone, fractured neck and broken ribs among her injuries, according to a Thatcher investigator. Witnesses reported she was conscious when she was removed from the scene, and she was listed as being in serious condition as of Tuesday morning, according to a UMC public affairs officer.
After colliding with the truck, the Challenger began flipping violently and collided with a blue 2003 Chevy Impala that was facing eastbound at the traffic light on U.S. Highway 70. The impact knocked the Impala backward into a large tractor owned by V.I.P. Farms, which suffered minor damage and drove away from the scene when released. The debris field from the crash stretched over all five lanes and roughly 100 yards from the initial point of impact. The driver of the Impala, Raymond G. Sanchez, 66, of Clifton, did not report an injury. His passenger however, Carolyn A. Sanchez, 65, of Clifton, was treated at the scene for an injury to her knee. She was later taken in a personal vehicle to the Mt. Graham Regional Medical Center where she was treated and released.
A fifth vehicle, a white 2012 Toyota Prius driven by Delbert Nevins, 74, of Deming, N.M., was eastbound on U.S. Highway 70 and was slowing for the traffic light at the time of the collision. The Challenger hit the Impala a few yards in front of Nevins and knocked it back toward his vehicle and the tractor. The Challenger then continued to flip and came to a rest on its side just to the north of the Prius as the Impala came to a rest a couple of yards to the south. The Prius was unscathed save for running over some debris that flew out from the other vehicles. Nevins described the crash to the Courier as being something you would see in a movie and had no explanation as to how he avoided being hit as well.
"Everything was just full of flying debris," Nevins said. "It was indescribable . . . I don't know whether I accelerated or if I slowed down. I know I was trying to make a mental decision on what to do, but I didn't do anything. I just was there. Somebody else was driving that car."
The crash caused U.S. Highway 70 to be closed in both directions slightly east and west of the intersection with Reay Lane, and traffic was rerouted around the scene until about 8 p.m.
Follow reporter Jon Johnson on Twitter at EACourierJon.