SHP: Car involved in fatal I-40 crash slid under median barrier into tractor-trailer

The car that crossed the median of Interstate 40 near N.C. 42 and hit a tractor-trailer truck on Friday morning somehow went under the cable barrier that separates the two sides of the highway, according to the State Highway Patrol.

Jesse Leach of Fayetteville was driving westbound on I-40 in Johnston County when his Toyota Camry drifted onto the right shoulder, said Trooper C.E. Summerlin. Leach over-corrected and lost control of the car, which slide across the median, under the barrier and sideways into the oncoming truck, Summerlin said.

The truck hit the passenger side of the car. The collision killed Leach’s wife, Angela, who was riding in the front seat, and critically injured the couple’s 7-year-old son, Leo, who was in the back, Summerlin said. Jesse Leach was also hurt, and he and his son were still hospitalized at WakeMed on Wednesday.

Cable median barriers have been credited with saving countless lives since the N.C. Department of Transportation installed the first ones in the state in Wake County in 1994. Engineers say the strands of steel wire strung on steel posts are effective because they stretch and absorb the impact of a car or truck better than a rigid guardrail. They are generally used in wider medians where the elastic cable has room to give.

But cars often go over and sometimes under the cables. Summerlin said it appears the nose of the Camry slipped under the cable on I-40 and lifted it so the rest of the car could follow. The cable did not break, he said.

“There are some posts that have been broken or uprooted,” he said. “But the cables themselves were still intact.”

Summerlin said the driver of the tractor-trailer truck and his wife received minor injuries in the crash. Three other tractor-trailers also collided with each other as they stopped suddenly to avoid the first accident. The drivers of those trucks were not injured.

The accident took place shortly before 9 a.m. Friday. The eastbound lanes remained closed until about 1:15 p.m.

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Richard Stradling covers transportation for The News & Observer. Planes, trains and automobiles, plus ferries, bicycles, scooters and just plain walking. Also, #census2020. He’s been a reporter or editor for 32 years, including the last 20 at The N&O. 919-829-4739, rstradling@newsobserver.com.