BILLERICA (CBS) – Three people were killed and nine others were seriously hurt when a Jeep Grand Cherokee sped through a crowded auto auction in Billerica Wednesday morning.
It happened just after 10 a.m. on Charter Way at Lynnway Auto Auction. Police believe the crash was accidental.
Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said a man and two women were killed. Their identities have not been released.
Nine people are hospitalized, one with life-threatening injuries. One of those people is a victim’s relative who suffered from stress-related symptoms.
Four people were transported to Lahey Hospital. Others are being treated at other area hospitals.
Related: Safety Questions Raised
An employee of the auction house was behind the wheel of the 2006 Jeep Grand Cherokee, which Ryan said traveled through the building at a “very high rate of speed.” The driver was only identified as a man in his 70s.
“At this point, there is no evidence or information to suggest the incident was caused by an intentional or terrorist act. All evidence and information at this time suggests an accidental cause,” Massachusetts State Police said in a statement.
Ryan added that it is a “very active scene” and the investigation is ongoing.
Billerica Police Chief Chief Daniel Rosa called it a “very tragic accident.”
“This was a large and chaotic scene with a lot of bystanders around,” said Rosa.
Lynnway Auto Auction issued a statement following the crash.
“We are very saddened by today’s events at the auction. Our thoughts and prayers go out to the individuals and families affected,” the statement said.
The investigation is centering on whether the driver had a medical emergency or if there was a mechanical failure. The driver was not hospitalized.
The Jeep remains lodged into the building wall next to a garage door.
Massachusetts State Police sent a crash reconstruction team and detectives to assist Billerica Police.
“It could have been a lot worse with the amount of people who were there,” Billerica Fire Chief Thomas Conway said.
Witness Describes Chaotic Scene at Billerica Car Auction
A witness at the scene who only identified himself as Geraldo told WBZ-TV he was inside at the time of the crash and saw the vehicle “speeding up through the auction.” He said it appeared to have been an accident.
“It hit the wall all the way to the end. It’s a concrete wall. So many people are hurt I have no idea,” said Geraldo.
“It happened so quick and it was so much damage because there are just so many people (inside the building).”
Just minutes before the crash, Lynnway Auto Auction posted on Facebook that cars were “lined up and ready for a beautiful Wednesday morning.”
Witnesses say the Jeep sped across eight lanes in the facility where several hundred people were standing.
Car dealer Wissam Merhab described a gruesome scene following the crash.
“Very, very serious injuries,” said Merhab.
Merhab said he believes the gas pedal got stuck in the Jeep, causing it to speed through the crowd.
Previous Jeep Cherokee models have been recalled due to acceleration issues, however it is not clear if the model was impacted by those recalls.
Four of the victims from the crash were brought to Lahey Hospital, where Dr. Casper Reske-Nielsen and other staff members rushed in an effort to save them.
Reske-Nielsen said the victims range in age from 30-60 years old.
“I think it’s mostly the unknown. We don’t know the extent of their injuries. Some injuries can be hidden that we can’t see visibly,” he said. “We don’t know anything about the patients, their medical history, so we have to kind of work blind from that perspective.”
Two of the victims who were brought to Lahey Hospital have “a long road ahead of them,” Reske-Nielsen said.
A similar crash happened back in October 2015 at an auction house in Framingham. Eight people were injured in that crash.
Lynnway Auto Auction President Jim Lamb released a statement regarding the crash:
On behalf of my entire company, I want to express our shock and sadness at the devastating accident that took place earlier today. We are stunned at the loss of life and serious injuries that occurred to our patrons.
We are heartbroken that this accident occurred at our premises with a vehicle driven by one of our drivers. Understandably, the driver is very distraught; he will not be driving cars at the auction until the investigation has concluded.
We want to extend our appreciation to all of the emergency personnel who rushed to the scene to help our patrons. Since the moment this happened, we have cooperated with investigators as they do their jobs to determine how and why this happened. We will continue to do so.
We are terribly sorry for what has occurred at our facility today. We extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families at this terrible time.
WBZ NewsRadio 1030’s Kendall Buhl reports