DURHAM (AP) — Six patients from a state mental hospital were killed and at least 15 others were injured in a five-vehicle accident just before construction work on Interstate 85 in Durham County.
The truck driver has been charged with six misdemeanor counts of death by motor vechicle. Esau Roosevelt Dixon, 57, of Montross, Va. was released on $10,000 bond after being charged.
Melissa Smith was driving a few cars back from the tractor-trailer, and witnessed the accident. She says it was a sight she'll never forget.
``This is the worst we've seen in our careers,'' said Sgt. Larry Davis, who was surveying the wreckage Friday night with other troopers at the scene.
Five people were declared dead at the scene, and a sixth died later at Duke University Medical Center. Identities of the victims were withheld pending notification of relatives.
The accident occurred about 5:30 p.m. near the Glenn School exit of I-85 in northern Durham County, just before the four interstate lanes merge into one going each direction in a construction zone.
Renee Hoffman, a spokeswoman for the Highway Patrol, gave this account of what happened:
The tractor-trailer was traveling in the right, northbound lane of the four-lane I-85. The tractor-trailer collided first with one van before it hit the Umstead van. The tractor-trailer and the Umstead van then both crossed the median, into the southbound lanes and off road. The van first struck by the tractor-trailer also struck a sport-utility vehicle and a third van.
Twenty-two motorists were involved in the wreck, Hoffman said.
Eight of the injured were taken to Duke hospital, where their conditions ranged from critical to fair, with head and chest injuries and bone fractures, said spokeswoman Becky Levine. It was not clear if one of the eight was the person who died later.
Among the critically injured at Duke were two Umstead patients and two staff members, according to the state Department of Human Resources.
Durham Regional Hospital also received eight patients. Three were in stable condition early today, while the other five were treated and released, said Don Brady, a hospital spokesman.
The driver of the tractor-trailer, who was traveling to Maryland, was not injured, the Highway Patrol said.
About a dozen law-enforcement and emergency agencies involving more than 100 people were at the accident scene.
Bill Jones, a spokesman for the state Division of Highways, said no construction was going on right at the accident site, and arrows and lights preparing drivers to merge were working.
``We have had people on the scene making sure our warning system was operating, which they were,'' Jones said.
Traffic in the northbound lanes re-opened after being closed for four hours. Southbound lanes were still blocked as of late Friday evening, Hoffman said.
John Umstead Hospital is one of the state's four major psychiatric hospitals and serves 500 patients from 16 counties in the north-central part of the state.
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