Driver will face charges in fiery I-40 wreck, troopers say

Posted January 27, 2009 3:51 p.m. EST
Updated January 29, 2009 12:03 p.m. EST

— The driver of an SUV who investigators believe triggered Monday night's fiery, five-vehicle wreck on Interstate 40 will face criminal charges after he is released from the hospital, Trooper Beckley Vaughan of the Highway Patrol said.

Troopers investigating the wreck say Osmar Guillermo Perez Vicente, 28, caused it when he cut across multiple lanes to try to exit onto Wade Avenue.

Vicente was listed in good condition at WakeMed Thursday. Vaughan said that after Vicente is released from the hospital, he will face charges of careless and reckless driving and operating without a license.

Vaughan said troopers also intend to investigate whether Vicente is in the United States legally. Vicente does not speak English and told investigators, via a translator, that he has been in the U.S. looking for work for two years.

The wreck closed down I-40 in both directions Monday evening.

Witnesses said Vicente, driving an Isuzu SUV, swerved across lanes, clipping a tractor-trailer, which lost control and rolled into the treeline.

The Isuzu then came back into eastbound lanes and hit a minivan, tossing it into a garbage truck.

The driver of the garbage truck lost control of his vehicle, which crossed the center median and hit a Dodge Charger in the westbound lanes, troopers said. The garbage truck ran off the road and overturned, spilling refuse along the shoulder.

The truck caught fire and set the driver's clothes ablaze, and flames spread to the debris on the highway and into the adjoining woods.

The driver of the garbage truck, Robert Jay Leffer, 48, from Sanford, was taken to the Jaycees Burn Center at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill. He was listed in critical condition Wednesday morning with extensive burns.

The other people involved in the wreck had minor injures and were not hospitalized.