PHOENIX — The Arizona Department of Public Safety has identified three people who were killed in a wrong-way crash in Phoenix early Friday morning.
Police say the wrong-way driver, who was traveling southbound within northbound lanes of Interstate 17 when he crashed head-on into another vehicle, was 21-year-old Keaton Tyler Allison from Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Allison collided with a white car carrying two female occupants at around 2 a.m. Friday morning. The victims were identified as Karlie Arlene Richardson, 20, and Kelsey Mae Richardson, 18. They were sisters from Mooresville, North Carolina.
Police say the cars collided just north of Greenway Road at a high rate of speed. There were no signs that either vehicle attempted to brake or avoid the collision.
After being extricated by the Phoenix Fire Department, all three were pronounced dead on scene.
Two of the three people who died were students at Grand Canyon University, the school said.
GCU spokesman Bob Romantic said the two students killed were in separate vehicles.
Dispatch received reports of a wrong-way vehicle traveling southbound on northbound I-17 near the Happy Valley Road exit at 2:09 a.m. At 2:10 a.m., dispatch received a report of the collision.
Impairment has not been ruled out, police said.
Authorities have been seeing a spate of wrong-way wrecks on Phoenix freeways in recent years, with drug and alcohol use typically the main culprit. Authorities have responded to seven wrong-way wrecks with injuries or deaths statewide so far this year, compared to nine for all of last year, said Trooper Kameron Lee, another Arizona DPS spokesman.
State officials are trying to find ways to prevent the crashes, most of which happen on the web of freeways that weave through the Phoenix metro area.
In an effort to keep drivers on the right side of the freeway, the Arizona Department of Transportation has installed hundreds of larger and lower “wrong way” and “do not enter” signs on more than 100 freeway ramps.
The agency plans later this year to install a pilot detection and warning system on I-17 and ramps, agency spokesman Steve Elliott said.
The system will send alerts to law enforcement and transportation department traffic operators, post warnings on overheard message boards, provide location updates on wrong-way drivers and trigger flashing warning signs at exit ramps to try “to get the wrong-way driver to self-correct,” ADOT said in a statement.
“Ultimately, engineering, along with enforcement, can be only one part of the response to wrong-way driving because this is first and foremost a driver behavior issue,” the statement said.
ADOT began planning the pilot project in late 2015 following a rash of wrong-way crashes, including ones that killed an off-duty Mesa police officer and a young Mesa couple.
The DPS regards wrong-way driving primarily as a societal problem, DPS spokesman Raul Garcia said.
“We want the public to take responsibility” to not get behind the wheel if impaired and to keep others from driving if they’re impaired, he said. Alternatively, “if they can’t take those keys away, dial 911 so we can take those keys away.”
He also said drivers should stay alert, avoid distractions and plan how they would respond in a split second to a hazard such as an oncoming wrong-way vehicle.
KTAR’s Jim Cross and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
*Police incorrectly said Friday the wrong-way driver was 22 years old, and one of the passengers of the other car was 19 years old.