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Investigators at scene of deadly crash involving L.A. County fire crew inmates [Updated]

November 23, 2010 |  5:40 pm

Investigators Tuesday evening were trying to determine what caused a deadly head-on collision between an SUV and a truck carrying inmates from a Los Angeles County fire crew. Deadly accident on Hwy 138

The accident on Highway 138 near Gorman left two people dead and several others critically injured. The force of the crash caused the boxy fire truck to roll about 150 feet and hurled inmates out of the vehicle and onto the pavement, officials said.

The driver of the Suburu Forester and one inmate were pronounced dead at the scene, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said. [Updated, 8:35 p.m.: county fire officials initially reported that the vehicle that hit the fire truck was a minivan.]

"Some of the members were ejected, and some trapped inside," Fire Inspector Matt Levesque said of the inmates.

The accident occurred about 2:20 p.m. as the fire truck travelled eastbound near Quail Lake Road. It was unclear what caused the collision, the California Highway Patrol said.

Late Tuesday, CHP accident investigators were at the scene sifting through the twisted wreckage and interviewing witnesses as they tried to piece together what happened.

Highway 138 remained closed in both directions -- westbound at Highway 14 and eastbound at Interstate 5 and Gorman Post Road.

In all, a dozen inmates were in the vehicle, which was being driven by a county firefighter who serves as the foreman for the hand crew. Officials said it was unclear how many of the 12 prisoners were critically injured.

The group was one of four hand crews assigned to Camp 14 near Santa Clarita, fire officials said.

For years, the county Fire Department has supervised inmates from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation at five camps across the county. The inmates augment hand crews from four additional camps staffed by paid county firefighters who cut fire breaks during brush fires.

The prisoners had been clearing brush from firebreaks or roadsides as part of its daily assignment, officials said.

-- Robert J. Lopez

Photo: Officials at crash site. Credit: KTLA