Local News

One Killed, Three Injured in Burning Car on I-95

Posted January 15, 1997

— Two people were killed and two injured when a car burst into flames after being hit by a truck on Interstate 95 near the Cumberland-Harnett county line.

The accident happened about 1:30 p.m. in the northbound lanes when Luther Thomas Vellines Jr., 47, of Chesapeake, Va., pulled his Chevrolet Suburban into the path of a tractor-trailer near Dunn. Vellines was changing lanes, apparently to pass a slow-moving state vehicle. The state vehicle was following a road crew applying herbicide to the median, forcing a moving closure of the northbound passing lane.

The driver of the truck that hit the car said the car moved into the right lane suddenly, and he could not avoid a collision. After impact, the car flipped and caught fire.

Motorists who drove up on the scene pulled three of four occupants -- their clothes on fire -- from the car. Vellines was pinned in his vehicle and died in the fire.

The passenger in the front seat, Charles Patterson, died shortly after he arrived at Betsy Johnson Memorial Hospital in Dunn. He was 35 and lived in Portsmouth, Va.

Two others in the back seat were taken to the hospital.

Henry O'Toole, 43, of Chesapeake, Va., was airlifted to UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, where he was listed in serious condition. Von Karl Freudenberg, 36, of Norfolk, Va., was listed in stable condition at Betsy Johnson Memorial Hospital.

The four men were heading to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for a golfing event, according to the state Highway Patrol.

The motorists who rescued three of the four occupants of the car say they acted without thinking and that they were acting on pure instinct.

Roy Lewis was driving the truck that hit the car. He says there was nothing he could do to avoid the car.

Thomas Grooms, also a truck driver, saw what happened.

About a half-dozen people quickly converged in the inferno. Two of them grabbed fire extinguishers from their trucks. The motorists managed to pull three victims away from the flames, but the car became a fiery tomb for a fourth man.

Motorist Canute Sewell says it was a dramatic scene.

The accident tied up traffic on I-95 south of Dunn for about four hours.

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