MORRIS HEIGHTS, Bronx (WABC) -- The westbound lanes of the Cross Bronx Expressway are back open, nearly twelve hours after a horrific, deadly chain reaction crash involving an SUV and two tractor trailers.
The collision happened at 12:35 a.m. Tuesday, when a woman's Range Rover collided with a tractor trailer contracted by the U.S. Postal Service, in the westbound lanes.
The woman was sitting in her crashed vehicle, stopped behind the tractor trailer, when another tractor slammed into her vehicle.
The impact set the sedan ablaze, and the flames spread to the first tractor trailer.
People living nearby say they could smell the smoke as soon as they stepped out of their front doors.
"It was really loud," one resident told Eyewitness News. "It kind of felt like a bomb being dropped down. And then after that first one you could hear two more loud 'booms' coming after that. And it sounded the same as the first. Then after a minute it went silent. Then all you could here were the firetrucks and the ambulance coming."
The woman was killed in the fire. She was later identified as 49-year-old special education teacher Shelly Vilsaint.
"My thoughts are with Ms. Vilsaint's loved ones, and I grieve this devastating loss alongside the entire school community," said NYC Schools Chancellor David Banks. "To support our students, families, and staff through this loss, we are working to immediately provide intensive additional supports to the community, which include school-based social workers, guidance counselors, and on-site mental health clinics."
Both tractor trailer drivers escaped their rigs with no injury, but the first truck was also destroyed by fire.
All westbound lanes of the expressway were closed, and one lane was getting by eastbound as first responders worked to douse the flames and police investigated.
The scene left more than one passerby stunned.
"There's an accident on this highway every day, but you never see anything this bad," said one. "Where even an hour or two later they're still trying to put out the fire. It's still burning."
Traffic was diverted off the westbound lanes at Jerome Avenue for nearly 12 hours.
With speeds on the highway averaging 5 m.p.h. or less during the morning rush hour, motorists were advised to seek alternate routes.
The westbound side finally reopened to traffic around noon, with significant residual delays.