Local News

Son doesn't blame driver charged in triple fatal I-40 crash

Posted July 2, 2011 1:12 p.m. EDT
Updated July 3, 2011 1:43 p.m. EDT

— The son of a man killed in Thursday's wreck on Interstate 40 says that it's not worth being angry at the tractor-trailer driver who faces impaired-driving and drug charges and is a registered sex offender.

Ronald Eugene Graybeal, 50, of Newport, Tenn., was charged with driving while impaired, two counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle, and possession of marijuana, methadone and drug paraphernalia.

Authorities said that Graybeal's tractor-trailer crashed into four vehicles on I-40 West, near U.S. Highway 15/501, killing Gary Dwayne Smith, 45, of Burlington, John Hall Llanio, 38, of Kannapolis, and Barbara Boda Caldwell, 64, of Mebane. A fourth man was treated and released from Duke University Hospital.

North Carolina State University student Jeremey Smith said he knew Gary Smith would be driving back from a monthly business then. His father didn't return his phone calls, and then around 1 a.m., he got the dreaded phone call.

"I was just trying to go to sleep, so hopefully, I'd wake up in the morning and it would all be over," Jeremey Smith said.

Authorities say that Graybeal had drugs in his system at the time of the wreck. He was convicted of rape in Cocke County, Tenn., in 1981 and is listed on the national sex offender's registry.

The company he was driving for, Hawley Transport of Newport, Tenn., has a record of problems with driver fatigue, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration. It does not have violations for alcohol or substance abuse.

Hawley Transport has a worse record for driver fatigue than 81.4 percent of other trucking companies, FMCSA records show. That score means that the company has been made a priority for roadside inspections.

The company also scored 31.1 percent in unsafe driving and 52.6 percent in vehicle maintenance. It has had two crashes in the past two years, including one with an injury or fatality.

Jeremey Smith said he's not going to lay blame for his father's death.

"It may have been that guy's fault, but there's no reason for me to be angry. There's no reason for anyone to be angry at him," he said. "It's already done. There's nothing we can do."

Instead, Jeremey Smith will try to focus on his father's life, rather than the wreck that killed him.

"He lived his life for us, plain and simple. He lived his life for me, my brother and my mom," he said. "There was nothing that would ever come in the way of us four. We were the tightest family I've ever known."

Gary Smith was a great father to him and his 16-year-old brother, Jeremey Smith said.

"He was always there for me, anytime I wanted to come home, just go out and kick the soccer ball around. He'd try and coach me and make me a better person through sports," Jeremey Smith said.

"I'm happy he was alive for as long as he lived, and I know he had a great life."