DURHAM — State troopers say the driver of a tractor-trailer was under the influence of marijuana and methadone when his vehicle caused a crash on Interstate 40 that killed three people Thursday.
Ronald Eugene Graybeal, 50, is in the Durham County jail after being charged with driving while impaired and three counts of felony death by vehicle.
Graybeal, of 306 Elena Lane in Newport, Tenn., is a convicted rapist and burglar, according to court records.
He was driving a truck owned by an East Tennessee company that has been cited for dozens of violations related to fatigued drivers and unsafe driving, according to federal inspection records.
The accident killed the drivers of three other vehicles: John Paul Llanio, 38, of Kannapolis; Barbara Boda Caldwell, 64, of Mebane; and Gary Dwayne Smith, 45, of Burlington.
Emergency workers transported a fourth motorist, Reginald Keith Thompson, 49, of Greensboro, to Duke Hospital, where he was treated for injuries not considered life-threatening, said 1st Sgt. Jeff Gordon, a Highway Patrol spokesman.
Troopers searching Graybeal's truck found the drugs and drug paraphernalia, Gordon said.
Graybeal's tractor-trailer was traveling west on the interstate, near the U.S. 15-501 overpass, when it collided with a Ford F-250 pickup truck driven by Llanio. The tractor-trailer then crashed into a 2008 Chevrolet Equinox driven by Caldwell.
After that, the tractor-trailer slammed into a car that burst into flames. The car, burned so badly that troopers could not determine its make and model, was occupied by Smith, Gordon said. The tractor-trailer continued on before striking a truck that was driven by Thompson, Gordon said.
Graybeal is being held in lieu of $500,000 bail, Gordon said.
A prior record
Tennessee criminal records show that Graybeal was ordered by the court to register as a sex offender after he was convicted of rape on Dec. 6, 1981. He has to remain a registered sex offender for the rest of his life, court records show.
It is unclear from records what Graybeal's prison sentence was. But he also served five years in prison after pleading guilty in 2000 to aggravated burglary. He was released on March 13, 2005, according to the Tennessee Department of Correction.
Investigators say Graybeal was driving a 2008 Freightliner tractor-trailer owned by Hawley Transport Services in Greenville, Tenn., which has 10 drivers and 10 tractor-trailers. A receptionist who answered the phone Friday confirmed Graybeal was employed by the company, but declined to comment.
Inspection reports from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration show that Hawley Transport drivers, who are not identified in the public records, have been charged eight times over the past two years for speeding and other safety violations, and 28 times for violating driver-fatigue rules on highways across the Southeast and Midwest.
Several cases of fatigue
In 11 fatigue cases, inspectors pulled Hawley drivers out of service and did not allow them to continue driving. Those violations include driving more than 11 hours without rest and providing false or incomplete records to show how many hours the driver had been at the wheel.
Before Thursday's crash, Hawley trucks had been involved in two crashes in early 2010 in Kentucky and Tennessee, including one that involved an injury.
The Highway Patrol is continuing to investigate the crash. A reconstruction of the accident could take up to four weeks to complete, Gordon said.
Staff researcher Brooke Cain contributed to this report.
thomasi.mcdonald@ newsobserver.com or 919-829-4533