$11.4 Million Recovered for Family of Man Killed in I-5 Tunnel Fire

The Martinez Family v. Caltrans


On October 12, 2007, the largest roadway-tunnel mass collision in California history occurred in Los Angeles County near Santa Clarita. Thirty-three trucks and one car were involved in a chain reaction collision on southbound I-5. The initial collision involved a SAIA big rig that was going too fast for the wet conditions. When it crashed, it started a chain reaction that blocked the tunnel exit on the downhill side of the tunnel. A truck carrying diesel fuel on that downhill side ignited. The tunnel then acted as a chimney, incinerating those trapped inside as temperatures reached 1,400 degrees Fahrenheit. Three people were killed and many injured in the blaze. Our firm represents Victoria Martinez, the wife of Ricardo Cibrian Baltazar, and his two young children. Baltazar, a truck driver, was trapped in his big rig near the mouth of the tunnel. He died in the resulting fire.


The pile-up was the result of a combination of errors. Chief among them was the SAIA truck driver, who was driving too fast for the wet conditions. He lost control of his tractor and two trailers and crashed, blocking both lanes of travel and the shoulder outside the tunnel. The driver’s errors were compounded by poor sight distance and lighting in the Caltrans-designed tunnel, and other truck drivers travelling too fast for the wet roadway conditions.


The Martinez family’s case against Caltrans settled for $2.75 million. Thereafter, a settlement was reached between the Martinez family and the truck company that triggered this collision for an additional $3.75 million.


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