Highway Patrol officials say low visibility caused by smoke from a nearby fire was a factor in the chain of events, which involved nine vehicles, including two tractor-trailers and a Greyhound bus. There were a total of four crashes involved in the incident.
State Highway Patrol Sgt. Anthony Richardson said that a car stopped in a southbound lane so that the couple inside could trade places because the driver could not see.
The couple apparently believed the car was on the side of the road, Richardson said, but a tractor-trailer did not see it and hit it, leading to the string of collisions.
Two cars then rear-ended and ran underneath the tractor-trailer. The four people who died were members of the same family, and were all in one of the two cars. They are J.C. Myers Jr., 58, of Myrtle Beach, S.C. and Lillian Sands Myers, 58, of Murrells Inlet, S.C. Also in the car were their children, Darrell Myers, 33, of Hunter Army Air Field in Savannah, Ga.; and Barron Myers, 38, of Surfside Beach, S.C.
As a result of the crashes, I-95 southbound in Northampton County near the Virginia state line (mile marker 176, close to the NC-46 interchange at Gaston) was closed for hours. One lane opened around 8 a.m. and the scene was cleared by around 10 a.m. Sunday.
An official with the Forrestry Division said lightning strikes from a storm Thursday caused the nearby fire, which continues to burn.
Crews with the North Carolina Forest Service say that what is normally about 50 acres of swampland is now covered with hot spots. They say that the drought has dried up the water and left dead grass, which ignites quickly.
The North Carolina Forest Service will be monitoring hot spots in the area Monday.
There is no word yet on whether anyone will be charged in connection with the crashes.