The crash happened around 3:30 pm near Bullard and West.
After hearing a boom, cosmologist Priscilla Perez walked out of Prestige Salon to the horrifying sight of flames erupting from a van turned on its side and a tower of black smoke going up into the air.
"What is happening? Why are people panicking? Why are people screaming? I saw kids running," she says.
Officers say this was the devastating aftermath of a welfare check turned police chase.
It started about two miles away from the crash site at Marks and Browning.
DEADLY CRASH: Bullard & West remains closed in northwest Fresno after a deadly crash. Investigators say a man driving a van blew a red light, hit a car, flipped over and then burst into flames. The driver of the vehicle died. @ABC30 pic.twitter.com/uMXrNWvhWZ— Gilbert Magallon (@GilbertABC30) March 12, 2021
There, officers made contact with the driver of a Penske rental van whom 911 callers described as asleep or passed out behind the wheel.
"The subject was in the driver's seat and was alone in the vehicle. The vehicle was in drive and it appeared that his foot was on the brake," says Fresno Police Lt. Rob Beckwith.
Officers say after a short conversation, the driver sped off, leading police on a high-speed chase.
"Once the driver made the decision to drive the way he was, we disengaged in the interest of public safety," says Beckwith.
As the driver of the van drove east on Bullard, he blew a red light crashing into a car at the West intersection.
The van took out a traffic signal and burst into flames, killing the driver inside.
Officers anticipate the intersection to remain closed until 10pm. @ABC30— Gilbert Magallon (@GilbertABC30) March 12, 2021
Perez and her coworkers tried to help as flames intensified.
"We ran back inside and tried to grab a fire extinguisher, but by the time we got out, it was engulfed in flames and there was nothing we could do," she says.
Councilman Mike Karbassi who represents District 2, where the crash happened, was just 30 seconds away from the intersection.
"I thought Dutch Bros. was on fire. There was just so much smoke," he says.
Karbassi says this deadly crash mirrors another that happened just a mile away on Bullard and Palm in December.
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A driver led police on a chase, blew a red light and killed four people including himself.
"This has to stop. This is why the city and police department is committed to reducing the violence on our streets and the violence on our roads," he says.
Officers say this is the 12th fatal crash this year.