I-40 reopened after fiery, five-vehicle wreck

Posted January 26, 2009 7:24 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT

— Interstate 40 near Wade Avenue in western Raleigh has reopened after a fiery, five-vehicle wreck Monday evening.

For several hours, both sides of the interstate were closed from the Wade Avenue exit in Raleigh to Harrison Avenue in Cary. Access from Wade Avenue to I-40 westbound remained closed until early Tuesday.

Shortly before 7 p.m., witnesses said, the driver of an Isuzu missed the exit onto Wade Avenue from eastbound I-40, so he cut across multiple lanes to try to get to the exit.

The Isuzu hit a tractor-trailer and then went off the road into the treeline, the state Highway Patrol said.

"It clipped the front end of a tractor-trailer and lost control,” Trooper Beckley Vaughan said.

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 it flames spread to the debris on the highway and into the adjoining woods.

"It was unreal. I have never seen anyone on fire,” witness Clay Roberson said. "It was just like a movie."

Roberson was among the first witnesses to stop. He said he was surprised to see any signs of life in the burning truck.

"The door swung open, and it was fire coming up,” Roberson said.

Roberson said he helped pull the driver out of the burning truck.

"I can't believe everybody is alive,” he said.

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 Tuesday afternoon with extensive burns.

The driver of the Isuzu, Osmar Guillermo Perez Vicente, 28, was taken to WakeMed. He was listed in good condition Tuesday afternoon.

His male passenger was transported to Duke University Hospital with non-life-threatening injuries. Police withheld his name.

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

The wreck remained under investigation early Tuesday, but  troopers said charges appeared to be pending.

The garbage truck was still smoldering three hours after the wreck.