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Lack of barriers make I-10 stretch AZ's deadly freeway

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PHOENIX (CBS5) -

A CBS 5 Investigation has identified a series of fatal collisions on Interstate 10 between Phoenix and Tucson critics say could have been prevented if the State Department of Transportation had installed a simple safety feature on the freeway.

On March 29, the Curley and Blackmore families were returning to the Valley after a day trip to Tombstone when the Ford F250 pickup truck they were riding in experienced a tire blowout. The truck rolled across the median and into the path of an oncoming 18-wheeler.

"I mean that vehicle went right into a roll into oncoming traffic and hit an 18-wheeler. With my family in it. My three kids," said Larry Curley, who lost his son, two daughters, sister and mother that day.

"When I got the phone call, I just turned white and dropped the phone. Human beings aren't wired to deal with that much loss in a phone call," said Curley.

CBS 5 Investigates found it was just one in a series of fatal collisions that occurred within 3 miles of this latest crash. All were the result of one vehicle losing control, crossing the median and colliding with oncoming traffic. Seven collisions, involving 14 deaths, have occurred along this stretch near Picacho over a 10-year period.

Forty miles up the freeway near Phoenix, another spot saw 10 crossover collisions over a four-year period. In 2012, a jury awarded the survivor of one of those crashes $7.8 million, to be paid by the state, because of negligence in failing to ensure the freeway is reasonably safe.

"The state has a considerable problem with crossovers on its major highways here in Arizona," said Tom Ryan, an attorney who has represented victims of these crashes in claims against the State Department of Transportation.

According to Ryan, the problem is that the state has long stretches of freeway that contain no median barrier, nothing to stop an out of control vehicle from crossing the center line and colliding with oncoming traffic.

The State Department of Transportation has added median barriers to some areas, but today there are still long stretches of I-10 between Phoenix and Tucson that have no median barriers.

"There are different barriers that they can put in there that will eliminate the crossovers, eliminate the crossovers completely. The plain fact of the matter is it's cheaper for them just to leave an open space," Ryan said.

Officials from the Arizona Department of Transportation turned down a request for an on-camera interview. They released a statement, which reads in part, the agency "takes seriously all collisions on state highways, including cross-median crashes ... and is currently implementing a Roadway Departure Safety Plan that will help reduce cross-median and other roadway departure crashes."

But in court, the agency's attorneys offered a different argument: That the freeway met safety guidelines when it was built in 1967, so the state has no duty to install median barriers today.

Larry Curley, family members of victims and survivors of crossover collisions said they believe the state should have added median barriers years ago.

"If it had impacted their family, there would already have been something done about it," said Curley.

Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.

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