A collision between two semi-trucks led one to jackknife across Interstate 80’s westbound lanes on March 1, beginning a pileup near Wamsutter that killed three people, the Wyoming Highway Patrol said in a preliminary crash report published this week.
About 30 vehicles, many of them semi-trucks, were involved in the crash. Another wreck, only miles away and called in just minutes after the 3:39 p.m. westbound crash, was not directly connected, a highway patrol spokesman said on Tuesday afternoon. That wreck did not result in any deaths.
The two crashes — which themselves involved multiple separate and cascading collisions — involved a total of approximately 80 vehicles, said Sgt. Jeremy Beck. The wrecks closed portions of the highway near Creston Junction for about two days.
Dozens of people in the aftermath of the collisions sought medical care at Memorial Hospital of Carbon County, which called in extra doctors and used its cafeteria as a temporary holding space for patients.
Authorities initially estimated at least 100 vehicles were involved in the collisions. Beck said Tuesday the latest count is lower because vehicles that managed to pull off the road or otherwise avoid the collision but remained on scene were initially included in official estimates.
In the publication made this week, highway patrol troopers outlined with more detail than previously made public the causes of the pileup. In the report, the agency states that a semi-truck collision led one of the trucks to jackknife across the highway’s westbound lanes, beginning the fatal pileup. A Toyota Highlander, unable to stop on the icy roads, collided with the stopped semi-truck.
Two more tractor trailers arriving at the wreck then collided. One of the trucks rear-ended the other, a Freightliner, which then collided with the Toyota. Yet another semi-truck then smashed into the Toyota, pinning it to the jackknifed Volvo.
The passenger in the Toyota — Deborah Carrel, 53, of Marshall, Michigan — was later pronounced dead.
The wreck then metastasized, with more tractor trailers piling up and completely blocking the highway. A commercial tractor towing multiple other tractors behind it in a piggyback-style then wrecked.
The driver of that tractor — Emman Ojiaka, 64, of Denton, Texas — died in the wreck, as did the driver of another semi-truck: Kian Kennedy, 27, of Hampton, Georgia.
Several more vehicles collided before traffic was able to safely slow and stop.
The highway patrol has indicated that speed and driver inattention may have contributed to the wreck. Beck, the spokesman, on Tuesday said that he did not know if anybody would be held criminally culpable in connection with the wreck. Beck referred the Star-Tribune to the Sweetwater County Attorney’s Office.
County Attorney Dan Erramouspe said Tuesday afternoon that he did not yet know if anyone would be charged in connection with the crash. Erramouspe said that state troopers had served search warrants to investigate some vehicles in the wreck. He said further evidence would be collected before the highway patrol submits recommendations to his office.
According to highway patrol records, 12 people have died on Wyoming roads so far this year. That is the lowest number of fatalities through mid-March of any calendar year since 2016.
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