Local News

Driver Charged in Fiery, Fatal I-40 Wreck

Posted August 21, 2007 2:49 p.m. EDT
Updated August 22, 2007 6:57 a.m. EDT

— A Fuquay-Varina man faces charges of driving with a revoked license in connection with a fiery, fatal wreck on Interstate 40. Prosecutors said that charge is being seen more commonly in North Carolina courtrooms.

Robert Klimczak, 22, was also charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle in the eight-vehicle accident that happened near the Airport Boulevard exit on July 27. One person was killed and several other people injured.

Roger Smith, Jr., Klimczak's lawyer, said that his client was unaware that his license was revoked.

Klimczak's license was suspended after he failed to show up in court to face minor charges, not involving alcohol, stemming from an accident in 2006. Then, Klimczak was charged with having an expired registration and being uninsured, Smith said.

Klimczak was taken to a hospital after the accident and was never made aware of the charges or his court date, Smith said.

State troopers said the charges are still valid, whatever the circumstances under which Klimczak's license was revoked.

"The matter is that he was suspended at the time of this collision. What went on that got him to that point is irrelevant. The fact is that on that date and time, he was suspended," Lt. Everett Clendenin said.

Drivers can get their licenses revoked for a variety of reasons, said Neg Mangum, the assistant district attorney who is prosecuting Klimczak.

"Some for something as simple as missing a traffic ticket. Others are for much more serious things, driving while impaired, having your license revoked for alcohol-related offenses," Mangum said.

The result is that DWLRs, as Mangum called them, are becoming increasingly common in courts and on the roads.

In 2006, 147,000 people were charged with driving on revoked licenses in North Carolina. In 2005, that number was 144,000 - twice the number of people charged with drunk driving.

North Carolina's seeing part of a national trend, according to a study by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Statistics. Nationally, 13.5 percent of fatal accidents between 1993 and 1999 involved unlicensed drivers, the study found.

Klimczak entered traffic court in 2006 to face charges of reckless driving to endanger and going 101 mph in a 65 mph zone, Smith said. Klimczak pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and to driving left of center, and was ordered to pay court costs. The speeding charge was dismissed.

None of those charges had any connection with his license being suspended, Smith said.

Troopers argued that Klimczak is responsible for causing the accident on I-40.

"We know that the driver on this occasion, from what we've determined, was not paying attention (and) lost control," Clendenin said, declining to be more specific.

Klimczak, a senior at North Carolina State University, was driving his father's pickup truck to work in Research Triangle Park, his father said. The truck clipped a second pickup, which collided with a tractor-trailer and sent the rig through the median barrier into oncoming traffic, authorities said.

A westbound tractor-trailer was hit by a pickup truck and went through a guardrail, across the median and into eastbound traffic before catching fire and exploding.

Nemeth F. Sanders, 43, of Bailey, the driver of one of three pickup trucks involved in the wreck, was killed, authorities said.

The wreck shut down I-40 in both directions for hours, and crews spent the rest of the weekend rebuilding about 100 feet of asphalt melted by burning diesel fuel and repairing the damaged guardrail.

Authorities said they hope the charges against Klimczak will serve as a warning to other drivers.

"You're thinking about your next meeting or what you're going to do when you get home, (and) in a split second, all that can change. People can lose their lives, (and) terrible things can happen," Clendenin said.

Authorities said Klimczak also might get the $35,000 bill for the work state highway crews had to do to repair the damage to I-40 after the wreck. He is scheduled to appear in court on Sept. 27.