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Three confirmed dead in fiery Highway 400 crash

'It's a miracle there wasn't more deaths:' OPP Commissioner

The OPP now say there are three confirmed fatalities in the massive, 'devastating,' fiery collision on Highway 400 south of Barrie.

The highway remains closed following the deadly multi-vehicle chain reaction crash around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday in the northbound lanes between Highway 88 and 89.

OPP Commissioner Vince Hawkes held a news conference at the scene Wednesday to address the tragedy. 

"This could have been 100 times worse and it's a miracle we don't have about 25 lives lost," said Hawkes. 

"I saw five or six vehicles that were burnt to the ground. The only thing left is metal. In my 33 years of policing, when I see the devastation of those trucks, the cars, the trees are burnt and they're 45 feet high in the air and the flames would have been enormous that caused the many occupants of those vehicles to scramble for their lives."

The crash involved 14 vehicles, including three transport trucks and two fully loaded fuel tankers. 

Several people were taken to hospital with non-life-threatening injuries.

Preliminary findings suggest the crash may have been caused by a transport truck that failed to slow down in traffic for a three-car crash that occurred prior to the major collision. 

The driver in the first crash has been charged with impaired driving. 

Just last week, Hawkes held a news conference to warn about an increasing number of fatal collisions that are being caused by distracted, tired or inattentive transport truck drivers.

Multiple victims’ family members spoke at the event about the enduring and devastating impact the loss of their loved ones have had on their lives.

"This is all about the victims. Their lives will never be the same as a result of someone's inattentiveness," he said. 

"There's really no excuse for that transport truck to travel at the speeds that it did," he said. 

"We have to take this seriously," for the victims' families.

The Commissioner said the OPP 'will do what it takes' to end distracted driving and he supported the idea of a Coroner's inquest.  

"I think it could help. It will open up not only what the OPP are saying and what law enforcement are saying about the challenges of distracted driving on the highway but that these trucks are in essence, missiles travelling down the highway," Hawkes said. 

"No one's life should be lost.  The trend seems to be getting worse."

Most of the major trucking companies are 'well down the line' looking at advanced technology in order to prevent something like this from happening, Hawkes said.   

"But that's not necessarily the problem. You can have all the technology in the world but if the driver is still distracted - whether they're watching television, or texting or eating a sandwich - they're not paying attention to the road when the traffic is stopped ahead then the devastation is going to happen."

He also said the public has a responsibility to be aware of what's happening not only in front of them but behind, adding drivers can get involved by calling 911 if they see a vehicle weaving from lane to lane. 

"We have to have action," he said. 

The deceased have not been identified and the cleanup at the scene continued Wednesday. 

"Absolutely devastating news from southern Ontario. My thoughts are with those who lost a loved one in the horrific crash on Highway 400," Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in a tweet

"We owe our gratitude to the brave men and women who rushed to the scene overnight - thank you for the hard work you do."