8 Injured in I-85 Accident, Highway Re-Opened

Posted June 16, 2007
Updated June 17, 2007

— Eight people were injured, one critically, in a three-vehicle accident on Interstate 85 North near the U.S. 70 split Saturday afternoon, according to Durham police.

The accident shut down the entrance to U.S. 70 from I-85 North for several hours.

The accident happened at 12:51 p.m. when a northbound Ford Explorer, driven by Jonathan Smith of Fayetteville, attempted to merge left from one of the lanes going to U.S. 70 to the adjoining lane of I-85.

The right front quarter of the Explorer struck the left front quarter of a minivan in the middle lane, causing both vehicles to go out of control, police said. The minivan then struck a right tire on a tractor-trailer, which was in the northbound lane to the left of the minivan.

The Explorer bounced off the minivan and struck a guardrail on the right side of the highway. The Explorer then spun clockwise and ended up facing south next to the guardrail. Two children in the cargo area of the Explorer were ejected through the back window.

The minivan also ran off the right side of the road and ended up in the breakdown lane in front of the Explorer.

The tractor-trailer, which was driven by James Watson Jr. of Douglas, Ga., went out of control and the weight of the paper products in the trailer shifted, causing the vehicle to flip on its left side and slide across the highway to the right.

Watson was driving for Roehl Transportation, according to police.

He was taken to Duke University Hospital, where he was in critical condition Sunday. His 10-year-old daughter was treated at Duke and released.

Smith was not injured, but six people in his vehicle - two adults, two teens and two children - were taken to the hospital for treatment of injuries that do not appear to be life-threatening. Three of the six have been released from the hospital at this time, police said.

No one in the minivan was injured. The name of the minivan’s driver is not available.

All three vehicles were total losses. No charges have been filed at this time, but the accident remains under investigation.

The highway re-opened around 7 p.m. Saturday, police said.


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  • TwTrkOprtr Jun 19, 2007

    To answer the first questions... it was the paper holders for Bud Light six packs. The responding emergency crews tell a different story than WRAL's report above. Word of mouth put the driver's daughter at 6 years old, and she was thrown also, but landed in the soft part over the guard rail. This tractor was so destroyed that words can barely describe the amount of damage done to it. I've not seen one like this before. It hit the guard rail and just disintegrated.

  • shine Jun 17, 2007

    Eveyone should drive a tractor tailer for a week whether it be on 40 or 85 and then they would not be in such a hurry. I heard about the wreck at 11 am and they still did not have it cleaned up at 4pm . My sympathy to the truck driver who along like me sacrifices their own property and their lives for people who put them in danger everyday.

  • aerolove2k Jun 17, 2007

    How come everyone is overlooking the fact that this guy ejected 2 kids from his vehicle and put a truck driver in critical condition while his daughter witnessed it. I'm not sure if it was the minivan or the explorer that didnt give, but when you got a car full of people, childern included, you should be a defensive driver. Of course, he comes out unscathed.

  • Professor Studley Jun 17, 2007

    I live not too far from this interchange and it is now 11 lanes wide at this point on I-85... lack of attention and speed are now the primary factors in play at this interchange now... My property is adjacent to the 85 Corridor about a mile from this interchange... Drivers PLEASE slow down and pay more attention to what you are doing... Additional lanes only made the road more dangerous because some are lulled into a feeling of saftey and are exceeding speeds of up to 75 - 80 mph while cresting a hill with traffic merging and exiting! The posted speed limit is 55mph. Drivers passing trough to the DC area speed terribly on this strech of road as well, often weaving trough traffic at all hours of the day and night.

  • hp277 Jun 17, 2007

    It is not a merge into the left-hand fast lane anymore. The intersection has been re-built. There are 3 through lanes and 2 lanes for traffic merging from the right to/from 70. The interstate is 5 lanes wide in each direction west of US 70.

    oneday - no problem. Lots of people don't understand the call volume an interstate accident generates.

  • el conquistador Jun 17, 2007

    That intersection has always been dangerous, especially coming west on US-70 merging into the fast lane (left hand lane) on I-85 south. People need to read the signs and start to merge when they first see the signs, not at the last second. It sounds like someone was distracted at a critical moment during the merge. Most likely the professional driver saved the lives of the people in the minivan and explorer by sacrificing his unit and himself at the crucial moment of opportunity. Truck driving is one of Americas most difficult and dangerous jobs. These guys (truck drivers) rarely get the credit they deserve from the media and public in general.. Good job driver!

  • oneday8035 Jun 17, 2007

    HP277-As the wife of a retired police officer I know first hand that the 911 operators are very busy. That was why i said that everyone else must have been calling. The 911 operators are understaffed the majority of the time. However, that fact does not help when you have a loved one sick or injured and it seems like it takes forever for them to answer. A few times a year when we have friends/family over to eat and have way to much food we will call them and they will send someone to pick it up for them. They often cannot get out to get dinner so this is just a small thing that we do for them. They are so appreciative and no we don't use 911 when we call them.

  • sexygypsie Jun 17, 2007

    My 18 year old daughter was heading south on I-85 at the HWY 70 split and saw the tractor trailer sliding across the road on it's side. Needless to say she was very upset witnessing such a scene. After pulling over and calling 911, she informed me that quite a few cars had pulled over and people were running from their cars hopefully to lend assistance where needed. I told her to say a prayer for the people involved for their safety. I also used the situation as a learning lesson for her to see what is involved when an accident happens. Hopefully she'll be mindful of this when driving in the future. My prayers are for everyone involved.

  • redwarrior Jun 17, 2007

    Yea, one must think of the 10 year old child that witnessed her fathers traumatic injury, obviously at no fault of his own.

  • IfByWhiskey-a-go-go Jun 17, 2007

    I passed the aftermath also. That wreck was ghastly, the cab of the truck was demolished. Thoughts and prayers for the truck driver.