Local News

Witness disputes Highway Patrol's findings in fatal I-40 wreck

Posted July 18, 2011
Updated August 7, 2012

Crews on the scene of a wreck on Interstate 40 west at U.S. Highway 15/501 in Durham County on June 30, 2011.

— A soldier who witnessed a fatal wreck last month on Interstate 40 says the trucker charged in the crash wasn't solely to blame.

Highway Patrol troopers said Ronald Eugene Graybeal was westbound on I-40 near U.S. Highway 15/501 in Orange County on June 30 when he crashed into four vehicles, killing three of the drivers.

Patrol investigators said Graybeal was under the influence of drugs at the time of the wreck and that he was traveling at 65 mph when he came upon a line of traffic that had just starting moving.

The chain-reaction wreck that ensued caused one vehicle to burst into flames.

Army Sgt. Matthew Pyle Witness disputes Highway Patrol's findings in fatal I-40 wreck

Gary Dwayne Smith, 45, of Burlington, died in the burning vehicle, and John Hall Llanio, 38, of Kannapolis, and Barbara Boda Caldwell, 64, of Mebane, also were killed in the crash.

"I don't know how they came up with what they came up with," Army Sgt. Matthew Pyle said of the Highway Patrol's findings. He is listed as a witness on the agency's official report of the crash.

Pyle told WRAL News in an exclusive interview that he was heading home and slowed down with the other traffic on I-40. He said he glanced in his rear-view mirror and saw Llanio's Ford F-250 pickup truck also caused the wreck.

"The red truck that was involved in the accident cut off the tractor-trailer," he said. "It was an accident out of a Hollywood movie, except it was real life and real people ended up dying."

Sgt. Jorge Brewer, a Highway Patrol spokesman, said Monday that accident reconstruction experts are still working to determine exactly what caused the wreck. Investigators are also still following up with witnesses, he said.

Patrol investigators use more than witness accounts to determine the cause of a crash.

Graybeal, 50, of Newport, Tenn., is charged with three counts of felony death by vehicle, failure to reduce speed, driving while impaired and possession of marijuana, methadone and drug paraphernalia. He is being held in the Orange County jail under a $1 million bond.

Prosecutors said Friday that they might upgrade the charges against him to second-degree murder.


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  • fayncmike Jul 19, 2011

    "NOT GONNA HAPPEN..............or maybe it will.

    Would it help if I said, "pretty please?":)

  • randow23 Jul 19, 2011

    Last week I was behind a pickup that was weaving from the middle of the oncoming traffic lane and running off the right side (multiple times). We came upon a trooper who was stopped writing a citation and I pulled up ahead and told the trooper about the drunk that had just passed who was all over the road. All he was interested in was cussing me out for stopping. Absolutely no action taken on drunk driver.

  • fairyswearboots2 Jul 19, 2011

    His story could be credible or he would not have said anything..
    4 wheelers are not always so mindful of a loaded 18 wheeler especially if they are in a hurry to get somewhere.

  • silencedogood Jul 19, 2011

    So I guess part of Army Soldier training now is traffic accident investigation and reconstruction?... Thats what I thought....

  • dsalter Jul 19, 2011

    These type of disasters happen all the time in and around larger cities with beltways. Washington, Atlanta, Baltimore, then New York on their infamous "Cross Bronx Expressway" all have bumper to bumper traffic, dead stop traffic. There are many more. Someone who tries to drive carefully and allows stopping distance by leaving a gap between them and the next vehicle are considered a sucker and someone will quickly fill that gap, reducing the distance. It happens all the time. Welcome to the big time Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill. The traffic you are seeing is indicative of being a big city.

  • abylelab -BT- Jul 19, 2011

    does this give the other "crazy" witness more credibility?

  • abylelab -BT- Jul 19, 2011

    didn't we just have an article last week that said the final report is that the tractor trailer ran into stopped vehicles?

    now they say they are still investigating?

  • abylelab -BT- Jul 19, 2011

    I was hit head-on by a drunk driver when I was 20. YOU?

    ME TOO!!! Well, I was hit head-on by a reckless driver when I was 20, but I did break two bones in my neck in the accident, does that count?

  • driverkid3 Jul 19, 2011

    pyle156, I didn't see anything, was nowhere near the spot, BUT..I think you had a much clearer view that these armchair critics that know everything and see everything that goes on in this world.

  • LambeauSouth Jul 19, 2011

    (Sp Ck) I was hit head-on by a drunk driver when I was 20