Local News

Witness disputes Highway Patrol's findings in fatal I-40 wreck

Posted July 18, 2011 4:04 p.m. EDT
Updated August 7, 2012 7:03 p.m. EDT

Crews on the scene of a wreck on Interstate 40 west at U.S. Highway 15/501 in Durham County on June 30, 2011.

— A soldier who witnessed a fatal wreck last month on Interstate 40 says the trucker charged in the crash wasn't solely to blame.

Highway Patrol troopers said Ronald Eugene Graybeal was westbound on I-40 near U.S. Highway 15/501 in Orange County on June 30 when he crashed into four vehicles, killing three of the drivers.

Patrol investigators said Graybeal was under the influence of drugs at the time of the wreck and that he was traveling at 65 mph when he came upon a line of traffic that had just starting moving.

The chain-reaction wreck that ensued caused one vehicle to burst into flames.

Gary Dwayne Smith, 45, of Burlington, died in the burning vehicle, and John Hall Llanio, 38, of Kannapolis, and Barbara Boda Caldwell, 64, of Mebane, also were killed in the crash.

"I don't know how they came up with what they came up with," Army Sgt. Matthew Pyle said of the Highway Patrol's findings. He is listed as a witness on the agency's official report of the crash.

Pyle told WRAL News in an exclusive interview that he was heading home and slowed down with the other traffic on I-40. He said he glanced in his rear-view mirror and saw Llanio's Ford F-250 pickup truck also caused the wreck.

"The red truck that was involved in the accident cut off the tractor-trailer," he said. "It was an accident out of a Hollywood movie, except it was real life and real people ended up dying."

Sgt. Jorge Brewer, a Highway Patrol spokesman, said Monday that accident reconstruction experts are still working to determine exactly what caused the wreck. Investigators are also still following up with witnesses, he said.

Patrol investigators use more than witness accounts to determine the cause of a crash.

Graybeal, 50, of Newport, Tenn., is charged with three counts of felony death by vehicle, failure to reduce speed, driving while impaired and possession of marijuana, methadone and drug paraphernalia. He is being held in the Orange County jail under a $1 million bond.

Prosecutors said Friday that they might upgrade the charges against him to second-degree murder.