Trucker charged in fatal I-95 crash; crews reopen highway

The North Carolina Department of Transportation reopened southbound Interstate 95 in Johnston County Thursday evening, more than a day after multiple crashes killed three people.

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SMITHFIELD, N.C. — The North Carolina Department of Transportation reopened southbound Interstate 95 in Johnston County Thursday evening, more than a day after multiple crashes killed three people.

The State Highway Patrol has charged a Florida trucker in one of the three crashes, and charges are expected against a second trucker.

Northbound I-95 lanes reopened about 5 a.m. Thursday, but crews had to repave a section of the southbound lanes where a fiery crash left a hole in the pavement. A contractor had to mill off the damaged pavement and pour 160 tons of asphalt to rebuild the roadway before the lanes could reopen at about 5:30 p.m.

The mayhem started shortly after noon Wednesday when a southbound tractor trailer veered onto the right shoulder near mile marker 90 and overturned, pinning the driver, Nenad Sekulic, 29, of Tacoma, Wash., inside. Both directions of I-95 were closed so that Sekulic coul be extricated from the truck cab and airlifted to WakeMed in Raleigh.

Sekulic's injuries weren't life-threatening, authorities said. Charges haven't yet been filed against him.

A 2000 Freightliner tractor-trailer sitting in stopped traffic from that crash was rear-ended on southbound I-95 near mile marker 95 by a 35-foot recreational vehicle at about 1:30 p.m. and erupted into a fireball, sending a plume of smoke into the sky.

Officials with EEC Express LLC, of Homestead, Fla., which owned the truck, said chlorine tablets were among the materials in the truck, and authorities said the truck driver, Eiver Espinosa Rodriquez, 23, of Homestead, quickly helped them identify the danger from the burning chlorine.

Johnston County emergency officials evacuated an area up to 5 miles from the crash scene to cope with air quality concerns amid shifting winds, including Johnston Community College, Johnston County Middle College, Johnston County Early College and South Campus Community School. Dozens of people went to shelters, and authorities shut down I-95 to let the chemical fire burn itself out.

Authorities closed the U.S. Highway 70 Business bridge over I-95 on Thursday so it could be decontaminated after being exposed to the hazardous materials.

The driver of the RV, Joseph Anthony George, 68, of Pittsburgh, was killed in the crash, so no charges are expected, authorities said.

Less than an hour later, two tractor-trailers, a small moving truck, a passenger vehicle and another RV were involved in a third crash, this time on northbound I-95 near mile maker 88, authorities said.

A 2010 Kenworth semi, driven by Alex Omar Lopez, 44, of Miami, rear-ended a stopped RV, killing Christopher Michael Porter, 36, of Pell City, Ala., and Mitchell Alan Vandenburg, 30, of Loveland, Colo. A third person in the RV, Adam Charles Nurre, 35, of Austin, Texas, was taken to WakeMed in Raleigh for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.

The RV then rear-ended the moving truck, which was also hit by the semi. The semi also hit a passenger vehicle, which then rear-ended another tractor trailer, authorities said. No injuries were reported in any of those vehicles.

Lopez has been charged with two counts of misdemeanor death by motor vehicle and was given a $5,000 secured bond.

According to court records, Lopez has only minor traffic violations on his record, the most recent in 2005.


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