The accident, which tied up traffic for nine hours, happened at 8:41 a.m. between the N.C. Highway 751 and Fayetteville Road exits, near The Streets at Southpoint Mall.
Durham police say an eastbound tractor-trailer driven by Ken Ronald Pittman, 39, of Garner crashed into the back of an eastbound Volkswagen Jetta driven by Kevin Paul Meyer, 38, of Chapel Hill. Both vehicles were in the right lane of I-40 East.
The tractor-trailer then clipped the back right corner of an eastbound Volkswagen Jetta driven by James Howard Phillips, 45, of Roanoke, Va.
The Jetta driven by Meyer went down an embankment and landed in a ravine. Meyer was pronounced dead at the scene. His 4-year-old daughter, Makenna, was taken by helicopter to Duke University Hospital, where she was in critical condition Friday evening.
The tractor-trailer, which is owned by AAA Cooper Transportation in Dothan, Ala., slid down an embankment and flipped onto its roof.
It took crews almost three hours to remove Pittman from the cab of the truck. He was airlifted to Duke University Hospital for treatment of serious injuries. Phillips was not injured.
"The truck, I could see him, was coming too fast," witness Chris Ballard said. "He was in the left lane and he swerved over to the right to avoid hitting everyone in front of him and hit the embankment."
Ballard held Pittman's hand until help arrived.
"He was just yelling, 'Hurry up, Don't leave me' -- things like that. There was really not much I could do because it looked like the cab was sitting on top of him," he said.
Eastbound lanes of I-40 in that area reopened around 5:45 p.m. While the lanes were closed, crews allowed traffic to move in a middle construction lane. At one point, traffic was backed up for 10 miles. Officers rerouted traffic on to N.C. 751 and N.C 54.
Hazardous materials crews were called to the wreck site to determine if there has been any sort of toxic spill. The truck was reportedly carrying a chemical used in blue prints.
No charges have been filed, but the accident remains under investigation.
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