News From Terre Haute, Indiana

Local & Bistate

May 17, 2012

ACCIDENT ON INTERSTATE 70: 2 die in fiery crash

Driver, passenger die in rear-end collision

TERRE HAUTE — Two people were killed Wednesday evening after a fiery crash involving two semitrailers on Interstate 70 just east of Indiana 46

The accident occurred about 5 p.m. in the eastbound driving lane.

According to a preliminary investigation, an eastbound semitrailer had slowed for construction zone traffic when — without warning — it was struck from behind by a second semitrailer, which apparently failed to slow down, according to Indiana State Police Sgt. Joe Watts.

The second (rear) semi caught fire and part of the cab disengaged. Both the driver and the passenger in the second semitrailer were pronounced dead at the scene. The driver of the first semitrailer, Rene M. Rodriguez, 33, of Tucson, Ariz., said he had no injuries and declined medical attention, according to State Police.

The two deceased victims, who appear to have been a male and female, were taken to Terre Haute Regional Hospital, where an autopsy and attempts to positively identify them will begin today by Vigo County Coroner Dr. Roland Kohr. The identification may take some time as law enforcement attempts to locate family members and medical records.

The deceased were trapped in the wreckage for 90 minutes as their recovery was hampered by the crush damage and fire, according to a State Police news release. The extrication and fire suppression was a combined effort of the Riley, Honey Creek and Terre Haute City fire departments.

The accident closed eastbound traffic for several hours. The eastbound passing lane reopened at about 8:30 p.m., while the driving lane was expected to reopen about two hours later after cleanup.

An inspection of both semitrailers by ISP Commercial Vehicle Enforcement master troopers Chuck Tharp and Matt Ames resulted in the Rodriguez vehicle being placed out of service for log book violations. The burnt unit (second tractor-trailer) showed no deficiencies. It appears the accident happened when the second semi driver failed to properly slow down. “It should be a stark reminder that when you are entering a construction zone, constantly look ahead and constantly check your rearview mirror,” Watts said. “These construction zones are marked adequately, but they do present a danger, and it’s up to you the driver to control your vehicle.”

Among those stopped in traffic was semi driver Louis Rotell of Florida. He didn’t see the accident, but he had slowed down when he saw other traffic slowing.

When he saw the accident site, he stopped the semi he was driving, which stopped other traffic. “I woke up my co-driver who was sleeping in the back and gave him the fire extinguisher. He ran over to the tractor,” Rotell said.

The co-driver and other stopped motorists attempted to use extinguishers to put out the fire. “They also tried to pry some parts of the cab away … but they couldn’t find anyone. They knew someone was in there,” he said. Soon, “The fire just got too bad, so they had to get away from it.”

Seeing such a serious accident “is disturbing. It’s like everything else. Every job has its dangers,” Rotell said. “You just feel bad for the people it happened to. You wonder what the circumstances were” and how the accident could have been avoided.

The crash was investigated by ISP troopers Ted Robertson and Michael Featherling.

Sue Loughlin can be reached at (812) 231-4235 or sue.loughlin@tribstar.com.

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