One killed, three injured in wrecks on I-85 South in Durham

Posted August 25, 2010
Updated August 26, 2010

— One person was killed and three others were injured Wednesday evening in two related traffic accidents on Interstate 85 South near the Roxboro Road exit in Durham, police said.

The accidents shut down I-85 South for approximately three hours.

The first accident occurred at 5:12 p.m., when a tractor-trailer driven by Lawrence Dixon Jr., 58, of McComb, Miss., apparently attempted to change lanes and clipped a southbound 2003 Jaguar driven by Dwight Edward Mason, 53, of Durham, police said. The Jaguar then spun into the right side of a 1995 Chevrolet van driven by Jason Elijah Tabares, 29, of Hillsborough.

Following the wreck, the tractor-trailer stopped in the second lane from the left on the highway, and a 1996 Chevrolet Lumina driven by Betty Ellis Stephenson, 63, of Durham, hit the back of the unoccupied truck, police said.

A passenger in the Lumina, Michelle Leigh Smith, 35, of Durham, was airlifted to Duke University Hospital, where she died Wednesday night.

Stephenson was taken to Duke for treatment of serious injuries. Mason and a passenger in his vehicle, Sallie Diane Mason, 47, of Durham, were treated at Durham Regional Hospital and released.

Dixon, Tabares and a passenger in his van, Vernon Antionne Pratt, 28, of Durham, weren't injured.

No charges had been filed in the case as of Thursday morning, but police said it remains under investigation.


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  • JustOneGodLessThanU Aug 26, 2010

    I still can’t find anything conclusive on when to move cars in NC.

    This is from a Florida site: “If there is an injury, then the old rules of "don't move the vehicles" still apply.”

    This from a teen driving site: “In some states it's illegal to move your car from the scene of an accident”.

    This from an attorney site:
    “unless they have changed the law since I quit driving commercially, if you are in an interstate commercial vehicle, (such as a semi,) you MUST NOT move the vehicle until instructed to do so by an officer of the law. (Federal DOT (Department of Transportation) regulations for common carriers in interstate commerce.)

    Doing so could get your commercial drivers license revoked PERMANENTLY; (as well as a large fine and/or jail time in some states.)

    It is ALSO accepted as "prima facia" evidence of guilt in the accident in several states.”

  • anne53ozzy Aug 26, 2010

    It is the first area that is congested w alot of local traffic after you leave the 85/95 split. Locally, more needs to be done to warn others who may not anticipate this about the hazards.

  • raysson Aug 26, 2010

    This can also happened on I-40 too where you got folks who don't know the meaning of pay attention,watch your speed,and by all means,put down the text and cell phone when behind the wheel.
    Driving on any major highway called for complete concentration and mental sharpness at all times!

  • raysson Aug 26, 2010

    the main route from Petersburg Virginia,to Montgomery,Alabama....the dangerous sections of I-85 is right there at the Roxboro Road/Avondale Drive exits once you hit city limits,and its daily that this dangerous stretch of highway is packed with cars coming out of Maryland heading towards Greensboro,Charlotte,Spartanburg/Greenville,Atlanta
    going South(where the traffic gets even more dangerous when the road shifts from four to six-eight lanes and back to four).

  • anne53ozzy Aug 26, 2010

    This is a very dangerous area of the highway. Perhaps a notice of increased density and exit activity should be posted to alert drivers who are not yet aware of that since the route is rural for many miles before you get to Durham.

  • mpheels Aug 26, 2010

    "When do you move and not move vehicles involved in an accident?"

    My understanding is that if the vehicle can safely be moved out of the roadway, it should be moved. I've been in two wrecks. In both cases the 911 dispatcher asked if my car was still in the road. In the first case it couldn't safely be moved (leaking fuel and engine had dropped), but no less three different responders asked if I could move it. In the second case, I had already moved into the median.

    It may be easier for reconstruction if you don't move your car, but it's infinitely safer if you do. Between witness statements and patterns of damage, it's still possible to accurately reconstruct an wreck scene even if the vehicles are moved.

  • str8thuggin Aug 26, 2010

    The truck should have been moved....people should pay attention. May the Lord be with the family of the deceased. LEO

  • mike honcho Aug 26, 2010

    I heard the truck driver tried to pull his truck off the roadway, but people began yelling at him thinking he was leaving the scene of the crash.

    As for leaving the truck in the middle of the road, investigating officers prefer the vehicles not be moved to assist in reconstructing the crash. The mother of the victim must have been looking at the cars that spun out in the crash and never saw the 18 wheeler. This was 5 o'clock in the afternoon on a sunny day, flares would have been no use.
    The fatal crash was a good 5 minutes after the initial crash.

    Thoughts and prayers to the friends and family.

  • JustOneGodLessThanU Aug 26, 2010

    If you can't see a tractor trailer stopped in the lane in front of It's not like the guy slammed on his brakes and the lady was following too closely (that still would have been her fault), but this guy was stopped...way up ahead. Talk about not paying attention.

    This does beg the question... When do you move and not move vehicles involved in an accident? We've all seen the signs on busy city roads that say "Move fender benders off highway"...but this was no fender bender. It's my understanding that leaving this truck in the road is correct and you put out flares, warning-reflector triangles, whatever.

    Any LEO's to comment here?

  • mshood7 Aug 26, 2010

    Prayers go out for all involved. This was a horrific accident. Please everyone remember to drive safely and not become a statistic.