Local News

Vance County Wreck Kills 2, Closes Northbound 1-85 For More Than 10 Hours

Posted August 3, 2003 6:16 a.m. EDT

— A fiery crash on I-85 killed two people Sunday and closed the northbound interstate for more than 10 hours. Authorities say it all started with a drunk driver.

The deaths were the result of a chain-reaction accident that happened around 4 a.m. near the 215 mile marker, in the area of the Highway 158 access ramp and Parham Road.

According to the Henderson Police Department, a 1992 Ford van driven by 35-year-old Gregory Andrew Lucas of Virginia Beach, Va., sideswiped a guardrail on the right side of the roadway and careened across the northbound travel lanes. The van then hit and shattered a concrete bridge railing before traveling off the bridge and landing beside the Highway 158 access ramp to I-85 South.

Only moments later, according to police, a 2001 tractor-trailer owned by Harris Teeter Trucking of Matthews, N.C., and driven by 54-year-old Dennis Ray West of Franklinville, N.C., stopped in the emergency lane just past the van accident to check on that collision.

Police said that before West could exit his truck, a second tractor-trailer crashed into some large debris in the road -- perhaps the van's engine - caused by the van crash. That second tractor-trailer skidded and jackknifed to the right before crashing into the trailer of West's truck on the shoulder.

The second tractor-trailer unit burst into flames and was engulfed by fire.

Two bodies were recovered from the second tractor-trailer unit. The victims' names were being withheld pending confirmation of identification and notification of family members.

The truck occupied by the deceased was hauling U.S. mail. Additional information is pending.

The trailer of West's truck also caught on fire and was destroyed. But West was able to uncouple the tractor and move it a safe distance from the fire.

Lucas, who was charged with DWI, was pinned in the van for more than two hours before being extricated by emergency workers with heavy cutting equipment and pry tools. He was taken to Maria Parham Hospital for treatment of serious injuries.

I-85 Northbound reopened shortly after 2 p.m.

Motorist Lee Secrest, who had to detour around the wreck after police shut down the northbound side of the interstate, called the accident scene "horrendous.

"I'm heading up to New York right now to teach a course to professional drivers in how to avoid accidents," Secrest said. "And I wish I could have had a chance, a crack at these fellows."

All the driving courses in the world may not have helped; police said Lucas was drunk.

As of Sunday night, police only had charged him with DWI. But manslaughter charges are possible because two people lost their lives.