Document: Suspect knew cylinders sparked fiery fatal I-17 crash - CBS 5 - KPHO

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Document: Suspect knew cylinders sparked fiery fatal I-17 crash

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Joseph O'Conner's booking photo. (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office) Joseph O'Conner's booking photo. (Source: Maricopa County Sheriff's Office)
Flames engulfed this semi after it struck a motorcycle and it burst into flames on I-17 on Monday afternoon. (Source: Phoenix Fire Department) Flames engulfed this semi after it struck a motorcycle and it burst into flames on I-17 on Monday afternoon. (Source: Phoenix Fire Department)
Joseph O'Conner, 27, is taken into custody. (Source: CBS 5 News) Joseph O'Conner, 27, is taken into custody. (Source: CBS 5 News)
This SUV was one of six vehicles involved in the crash that closed I-17 for more than six hours. (Source: Phoenix Fire Department) This SUV was one of six vehicles involved in the crash that closed I-17 for more than six hours. (Source: Phoenix Fire Department)
A vehicle fire has closed southbound I-17 at Thomas Road. (Source: Arizona Department of Transportation) A vehicle fire has closed southbound I-17 at Thomas Road. (Source: Arizona Department of Transportation)
PHOENIX (CBS5) -

The man suspected of driving a flatbed truck that lost part of its load and caused a fiery chain reaction crash on Interstate 17 Monday was aware of the incident and asked his employer to cover for him, according to court documents filed Thursday.

Joseph Ryan O'Conner, 27, was arrested by Arizona Department of Public Safety officers and taken to the Fourth Avenue Jail on Thursday afternoon, and made his initial court appearance later in the day.

He could face charges of negligent homicide, 18 other felony counts and one misdemeanor charge of drug possession in connection with Monday's fiery fatal crash on Interstate 17 at Thomas Road.

On Monday, a large, flatbed pickup truck, traveling in the fast lane, lost its load, spilling cylinders onto the highway about 3 p.m.

Steven Mathew Daniels, 27, of Sun City, swerved his motorcycle to avoid them and instead, slammed into an SUV whose driver had suddenly hit the brakes.

DPS spokesman Officer Carrick Cook said a semi-truck carrying limestone slammed into both of those vehicles.

The motorcycle caught fire, which spread to the semi.

Cook said the driver of the pickup who caused the crash did not stop, and evidence and witness descriptions led detectives to O'Conner.

DPS said O'Conner denied his involvement, saying his truck load was intact when he got back to the scrap yard.

But O'Conner was aware of the crash and asked his employer to get rid of any video or GPS evidence of his route that day, according to a court document.

O'Conner was the only driver for Delta Metals in Phoenix who had picked up the cylinders from a Phoenix grocery store Monday, according to the document.

The cylinders O'Conner was carrying matched the description of the cylinders involved in the crash, according to the document.

He faces the possible drug charge after officers said they found prescription pills in O'Conner's wallet. They also said he had a known affiliation with a motorcycle gang, according to the document.

Maria Robles De Palomino, 47, and Angelica De Palomino, 27, both of Phoenix, were in the SUV and suffered minor injuries. Both were wearing seat belts, according to a DPS spokesman.

The driver of the semi carrying the limestone, Charles Ashe of Chino Valley, was not injured and was also wearing a seat belt.

O'Conner was previously employed by Alternative Heavy Towing, which told CBS 5 News his last day was Oct. 17.

He was arrested Oct. 18 and eventually charged with participating in a criminal street gang and two counts of misconduct involving weapons, according to a court document filed by the Maricopa County Attorney's Office.

Court records showed he pleaded guilty and was released from jail at the end of the year and was on court-ordered electronic monitoring. He was scheduled for an initial court appearance on those charges Wednesday and was supposed to go to trial on April 3.

Court records show in 2003, as a juvenile, O'Conner pleaded guilty to a 2002 aggravated assault as part of a plea agreement.

Friends of Daniels are holding a fundraiser to benefit his family and funeral expenses. The car wash will be held Saturday, Jan. 25, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the corner of 43rd and Olive avenues in the Title Max parking lot.

Stay with cbs5az.com and CBS 5 News for updates on this story.

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