BILLERICA — Three people were killed and nine were hospitalized Wednesday when a Jeep Cherokee driven by a man in his 70s suddenly accelerated through the entire length of the Lynnway Auto Auction building, striking people at random before crashing into an exterior wall.
Two women and one man were killed. Of the nine injured, one suffered life-threatening injuries. The driver of the 2006 Jeep, an employee of the auction company, was not taken to the hospital, Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan said.
The crash resulted in a “large and chaotic scene” at what is normally a very busy but uneventful auction at the 58-acre Lynnway Auto Auction building, said Billerica Police Chief Daniel Rosa.
Ryan said her office, the State Police crash reconstruction team, and State and Billerica detectives were conducting an investigation that she expected to be “fairly lengthy.”
“Preliminary information suggests this was a tragic accident,” she said.
One of those hospitalized was the distraught relative of one of the deceased victims, Ryan said.
The crash, which happened at 10:13 a.m., did not appear to be an act of terrorism, officials said.
The Jeep was among hundreds of vehicles that were being displayed as part of the auction that routinely draws hundreds of people, Ryan said.
Ryan said the interior of the building is about 100 yards long and is painted with lanes in two colors. Red lanes are used by cars slowly being driven past prospective buyers and blue lanes are restricted to people. People can cross a red lane to get to the next blue lane.
The Jeep was in line waiting to join the slow procession of cars when, for reasons that are not yet known, it suddenly accelerated, tearing through through the building from one end to the other. Ryan estimated it traveled 100 yards before crashing into the wall and stopping.
“As the vehicle began to enter, it suddenly accelerated, traveling through the inside of the building as a very high rate of speed,’’ she said.
The victims were standing in both the red and blue lanes, she said.
Ryan said the driver was an employee of the auction company, and that only employees are allowed to drive vehicles during an auction.
Rosa also offered his condolences to the Lynnway employees, the Billierica community, and “especially the victims and the victims’ families.’’
Geraldo DeLima, 46, a Somerville resident said he had been at the auction looking for car deals and was still inside when the vehicle came plowing through the crowd.
“It was horrible, horrible,” DeLima said. “I saw everything. A guy sped up at the end of the auction, hitting people.”
“He hit people all the way along the auction and then hit the last two walls,” DeLima said.
Anthony Alba, who had gone to the auction in hopes of buying a car, said that in the lane next to him, he saw a Jeep SUV suddenly racing through the crowd.
“I was there to buy a car. It was coming up soon so I was in the next lane over when the Jeep hit the crowd,’’ he said in a telephone interview. “The people standing at the entrance got the worst of it. They were run over or smashed into the walls. There was blood everywhere. Everyone was screaming. We were all confused about what had happened.”
He said a woman rushed toward one of the victims and began providing first aid.
“There was one auctioneer — she used to be a doctor,’’ Alba said. “She was trying to bring one of the women back, but she was gone.”
“This is a horrible accident,’’ said Billerica Fire Chief Thomas Conway.
Conway said crews were on the scene trying to stabilize the building.
He also said that the Lynnway managers are up to date on safety rules required by the fire department. “They are a first-class operation,” Conway said.
Jerome Jjooga and Fredrick Kyazze, both of Framingham, said they arrived at building at about 8 a.m.
As they moved through the lanes to check out the cars, they were startled by a loud noise behind them.
“It was a bang,” said Jjooga. Kyazze thought a building had collapsed, but when they turned around, they saw a black Jeep that had crashed through a concrete wall.
People were running away from the scene, while auction staff swarmed the area to help.
Four people were lying on the ground, apparently hit by the Jeep. One man’s leg had been run over, both of them said.
The driver, an elderly man, was conscious and his air bags had gone off, Kyazze said.
“It was so, so bad,” said Kyazze.
The Lynnway Auto Auction has eight lanes passing through the building to move vehicles past bidders, who sometimes gather by the hundreds. Wednesday’s auction was scheduled to start at 8:40 a.m., according to the company’s website.
In 2015, eight people were injured at an auto auction in Framingham. when a luxury SUV abruptly accelerated across a warehouse floor and into a crowd of people before smashing through a cinder block wall.Globe correspondent Andrew Grant contributed to this report. Cristela Guerra can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @CristelaGuerra. Nicole Dungca can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @ndungca. John R. Ellement can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.