A Phoenix-area interstate freeway transition ramp was closed after a wrong-way driver in a SUV collided with a second vehicle being driven by an off-duty Mesa police officer early Monday morning. Both drivers were killed.
The wrong-way driver's SUV had traveled 35 miles on parts of three freeways for a half-hour before the collision on a ramp connecting Intestate 10 and the U.S. 60 freeway in Tempe, said Officer Carrick Cook, a state Department of Public Safety (DPS) spokesman.
Officers first spotted the driver going southbound in the northbound lanes on Arizona highway 51, but there was no pursuit at that point.
At one point, Cook says a DPS officer tried to ram the vehicle to stop him, but it didn't work. Stop sticks were also used but were ineffective.
The vehicle eventually ended up going the wrong way on the I-10 high-occupancy vehicle on-ramp where the collision with Mendoza's car took place. He was on his way home from work.
Both vehicles essentially caught fire and the wrong-way driver was pronounced dead at the scene.
Officer Mendoza, was taken to a hospital in critical condition and later died.
Mesa Police Chief Frank Milstead says Mendoza single-handedly rebuilt the Guerrero Rotary Park and called him an "icon on [Mesa] police department."
"Brandon would not be stopped," Milstead said of the park project. "He was everything that a police chief would want an officer to be."
The 32-year-old was with Mesa police for about 13 years.
Cook says no information is available about the wrong-way driver because the body was badly burned in the fire after the wreck.
Officers do not know if drugs or alcohol were a factor yet.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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