Local News

Scene of I-40 triple fatal wreck worries drivers

Posted July 6, 2011 4:13 p.m. EDT
Updated July 7, 2011 8:45 a.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.

— Some drivers worry about a stretch of Interstate 40 near the Durham-Orange county line where a tractor-trailer wreck killed three people last week.

The highway narrows from three lanes to two near U.S. Highway 15/501, where a tractor-trailer driven by Ronald Eugene Graybeal, 50, of Newport, Tenn., crashed into four vehicles last Thursday.

"That's about the worst wreck I have ever seen in my life," said Jesse Roberts, who came upon the wreck after it happened.

John Hall Llanio, 38, of Kannapolis, Barbara Boda Caldwell, 64, of Mebane, and Gary Dwayne Smith, 45, of Burlington, all died. Reginald Keith Thompson, 49, of Greensboro, suffered non-life-threatening injuries. Graybeal faces two felony and one misdemeanor death by motor vehicle charges, along with driving while impaired and drug offenses.

Some drivers say that there's not enough warning to react to the closure of the leftmost lane.

"Very abruptly, the traffic comes to a standstill, which you know generally causes you to slam on your brakes," Roberts said.

George George drives the route every Thursday and Friday, he said.

"I drive (I-40) westbound, and when I get anywhere near it, which means at the (N.C. Highway) 55 exit, that's where I get off because it gets really bad up here," he said.

Two signs on the left side of the road announce the lane closure. The first sign is placed 2,000 feet before the lane ends.

Last week's wreck caused the first fatalities in that stretch of I-40 in at least five years, according to a preliminary review of data from 2006 to 2010 by the state Department of Transportation.

The highway saw an annual average of 32.6 wrecks during that time period, causing an average of 11.6 injuries each year.

Roberts said he also drives the route regularly. He's learned to anticipate potential danger and back-ups, but said he's never noticed the warning signs.

"It is not marked well enough. It needs to be marked where it gives you at least five or six warnings way ahead of time," he said.

DOT said they will survey the area to see if adjustments need to be made, such as adding more signs or changing the speed limit. They will also consider the number of wrecks in the area.

The DOT survey of the area will begin once the department receives the final report on last Thursday's wreck, officials said.