Traffic

3 killed in crashes that shut down I-95 in Johnston County

N.C. Department of Transportation workers repair a stretch of southbound Interstate 95 at Smithfield on Thursday, a day after a tractor-trailer truck carrying chemicals exploded when it was hit from behind by a recreation vehicle. The driver of the RV was killed, and the resulting fire forced the evacuation of homes and businesses within a mile of the site.
N.C. Department of Transportation workers repair a stretch of southbound Interstate 95 at Smithfield on Thursday, a day after a tractor-trailer truck carrying chemicals exploded when it was hit from behind by a recreation vehicle. The driver of the RV was killed, and the resulting fire forced the evacuation of homes and businesses within a mile of the site. jdjackson@newsobserver.com

Wednesday’s mayhem on Interstate 95 in Johnston County resulted in the deaths of three people, the State Highway Patrol said Thursday afternoon.

A single accident led to two other crashes as both the north and southbound lanes of the interstate slowed to a standstill.

The first crash occurred around noon Wednesday as Nenad Sekulic of Tacoma, Wash., drove his tractor-trailer truck off the side of the southbound lanes near Four Oaks and into a line of trees. Sekulic was pinned in his truck for hours and eventually taken to Wake Med by helicopter. The Highway Patrol expects to file charges against Sekulic.

About an hour later, as traffic slowed behind the first crash, a recreational vehicle rear-ended a stopped tractor-trailer truck near Exit 95 in Smithfield. The semi was carrying dry chemicals, which ignited on impact, creating an inferno and toxic column of smoke that led to the evacuation of homes, businesses and schools within a mile of the crash.

Johnston County Emergency Management said the safest course of action was to let the fire burn itself out, which it did sometime overnight. The evacuation order remained in place until early Thursday morning.

The driver of the RV died at the scene and has not been identified. The driver of the tractor-trailer, Eiver Espinosa Rodriguez of Homestead, Fla., was not injured in the crash.

The third crash happened an hour later around 2:25 p.m. as traffic on both sides of the interstate had stopped for the two earlier crashes.

The Highway Patrol said Alex Omar Lopez failed to stop his tractor-trailer and hit an RV from behind in the northbound lanes near Exit 88. Two of the RV’s passengers, Christopher Michael Porter, 36, of Pell City, Ala., and Mitchell Alan Vandenburg, 30, of Loveland, Colo., died in the crash, while a third, Adam Charles Nurre, 35, of Austin, Texas, was taken to WakeMed with injuries that were not life-threatening.

Lopez has been charged with two counts of misdemeanor death by a motor vehicle.

The accidents closed a 10-mile stretch of I-95, sending traffic to Smithfield and Four Oaks. The road reopened Thursday, except for southbound I-95 at Exit 95, U.S. 70 Business, where state Department of Transportation crews spent most of Thursday replacing pavement damaged by the heat from the fire. The southbound lanes reopened late Thursday afternoon, according to NCDOT.

Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdrewjackson

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