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Two San Diego police officers — detectives who were married to each other — were killed in a fiery crash Friday morning when a driver of a car traveling the wrong way on Interstate 5 slammed head-on into their sedan.
The collision, which happened about 10:25 a.m. on I-5 near state Route 905, killed the wrong-way driver as well, the California Highway Patrol said. One officer initially said the car headed in the wrong direction was reportedly going at “a high rate of speed.”
The wreck forced authorities to shut down a stretch of the busy freeway just north of the international border for several hours.
At least one person called to report the car going north in the southbound lanes up the freeway about 10:20 a.m., CHP Officer Salvador Castro said. A short time later, witnesses called 911 to report the crash. One of the cars, a Honda Civic, had burst into flames.
Emergency workers arrived to find a woman in the Honda, and a man and a woman in a blue Ford Fusion sedan owned by the city of San Diego, Castro said. There were no survivors.
San Diego police Chief David Nisleit went to the crash scene on the freeway just north of Dairy Mart Road, roughly two miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border. He left without speaking to reporters.
At a news conference late Friday, Nisleit identified the couple as Detective Ryan Park, 32, and Detective Jamie Huntley-Park, 32. The department also displayed photos of the couple pinning badges on each other.
“You couldn’t have met two nicer kids,” Nisleit said. “Nothing but their lives ahead of them. Their lives and careers were both on a rapid trend upward.”
Ryan Park was a homicide detective. Jamie Huntley-Park, who Nisleit said had grew up in San Diego and graduated from La Jolla High School, was a detective assigned to the Southern Division. The couple met at the academy in 2012 and married in early 2016.
The chief, his voice quivering at times as he spoke, said he knew both of them. He said both had scheduled days off Friday, but “what we’re hearing is they were doing follow-up on cases they were working on,” Nisleit said.
The couple was in a car assigned to Park, who was on-call as a homicide detective. Park was driving, Nisleit said.
“It hurts,” Nisleit said. “These people mean a lot to us. Both Jamie and Ryan are just incredible people who had nothing but life ahead of them.”
Nisleit said that after leaving the crash scene, he spent the day with a department chaplain visiting with the couple’s families in person.
News that the two victims were police officers spread quickly.
“As police officers, we lost a brother and a sister today,” Castro said. He said the identity of the Honda driver has not been confirmed.
In a tweet, former police Chief Shelley Zimmerman called the deaths of the two detectives “heartbreaking” and “tragic.”
Heartbreaking tragic news @SanDiegoPD @ChiefNisleit @SDPOA on the two detectives killed by the wrong-way driver. Please keep their families and #SDPD in your thoughts and prayers.😢🙏 pic.twitter.com/B2lJyjPVJY
San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria also issued a statement mourning the loss, and spoke alongside Nisleit at the Friday night news conference.
“In the coming days, we will learn more about these public servants who proudly donned the badge to keep all of us safe and we will honor them for their service,” the statement read. “I ask San Diegans to keep the officers and their families in your prayers.”
At the evening press conference, Gloria said, “Jamie and Ryan were two of our best. We lost them today, and that breaks our hearts.”
Early Friday night, Rev. Shane Harris, who is the President of the People’s Association of Justice Advocates, and Bishop Cornelius Bowser, the pastor of Charity Apostolic Church of San Diego, went to police headquarters in downtown San Diego to light candles and lay a wreath.
Both men are often critical of the Police Department, but Bowser said that’s because “we hold them accountable … but it’s not because we see them as the enemy. They are part of our community and we love them. And they’re humans, but also many of them are our friends.”
Added Harris: “It’s about humanity. People have lost their loved ones, people have lost their lives, and you have to see the humanity beyond the issues of the day … When police lose their lives in the line of duty, it is something that we need to honor, and something that we need to appreciate.”
Park and Huntley-Park were the second and third San Diego officers to die while on duty this year. In February, patrol Officer David Sisto, 39, experienced a medical emergency while responding to a call and later died at a hospital.
As officials investigated then cleared the wreckage Friday, they shut down the freeway for several hours. Traffic was diverted at nearby state Route 905.
A few hours after the crash, when the road was still closed, a procession of more than a dozen motorcycle officers led a medical examiner’s van away from the site.
There have been several wrong-way crashes on San Diego freeways recently, including one on Interstate 15 in Fallbrook about six hours before the San Ysidro crash, that sent one driver to the hospital and the other to jail, arrested on suspicion of drunken driving.
Tuesday morning, a 52-year-old woman was killed in a crash involving a driver going north in the southbound lanes of I-5 in Carmel Valley. Several others were seriously injured in the 12:50 a.m. crash.
In April, a 59-year-old San Diego man died when his car was struck head-on by a wrong-way driver on Interstate 8. The other driver was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence.
In March, two drivers were hurt — and one of them arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence — in a wrong-way crash on state Route 94 in Emerald Hills. No one was killed.
And in a high-profile case in 2018, a Youtube star named Trevor Heitmann — who was better known to his fans and followers as “McSkillet” — drove the wrong way in rush-hour traffic on Interstate 805 in his 2015 British McLaren 650S sports car, slamming into an SUV carrying 43-year-old Aileen Pizarro and her 12-year-old daughter, Aryana. Heitmann and the Pizarros were all killed instantly.
Staff writer Alex Riggins contributed to this report.
10:36 p.m. June 4, 2021: This story was updated with additional details.
1:55 p.m. June 4, 2021: This story has been updated with information that two San Diego police officers were among those killed in the crash.
11:05 a.m. June 4, 2021: This story was updated to say that three people died in the crash on I-5.
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