MPD: Accident investigation may take weeks
RECONSTRUCTION – Jonathan Debord, the Meridian Police Department's accident reconstructionist, said it is not known how fast the 18-wheeler involved in the accident was traveling. Police Chief Benny DuBose said there were no skid marks at the scene. Photo by Paula Merritt / The Meridian Star
By Terry R. Cassreino / assistant managing editor
June 22, 2002
Meridian Police Chief Benny DuBose said Friday he will decide next week whether to seek criminal charges in a 10-vehicle Interstate 20/59 pile-up that killed two people.
DuBose said everything will depend on an MPD probe into the Thursday accident in the eastbound lanes of I-20/59, between the Highway 19 and U.S. 45 exits.
The accident occurred about 3 p.m. when a West Side Transport tractor trailer apparently collided with nine vehicles stalled in traffic near ongoing construction work. The 18-wheeler drove off the south side of the highway, ran up an embankment and fell on its side.
The accident left debris spread across the highway, tied up interstate traffic for hours and closed the eastbound lanes between Highway 19 and U.S. 45 until 9:30 p.m. Thursday.
Lauderdale County Coroner Marl Cobler identified the dead as Guy Thrasher, 63, of Toomsuba, and Raphael Goodwin, 48, of Meridian drivers of separate vehicles involved in the accident.
DuBose said a third person, Helen Grafe of Lucedale, remained hospitalized in Mobile with internal injuries. Others injured in the accident were treated and released.
Among those released: Joseph S. McCrary of Montgomery, Ala., the driver of the 18-wheeler who was hauling freight for West Side Transport of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. McCrary did not return messages left on the answering machine at his home.
West Side Transport is part of West Side Unlimited Corp., a family-owned and operated company that has been in business for about 30 years. West Side moves goods across the country.
Tim Whitney, safety director for West Side Transport, said his company's safety record is "certainly satisfactory." He declined further comment on the accident.
The accident was the fourth in a month on I-20/59 near construction work and involving 18-wheelers.
Amy Hornback, spokesman for the Mississippi Department of Transportation, said workers were resurfacing eastbound lanes of the interstate Thursday near the U.S. 45 exit.
But Hornback and Jim Kopf, MDOT's deputy executive director and chief engineer, couldn't say if the highway work was related to, or contributed to, the accident.
Kopf said MDOT regulations require signs alerting motorists of road work to be placed about a mile before construction. He added that the speed limit is reduced from 70 mph to 60 mph in work zones.
The same or similar safety precautions are common in other states, he said, including Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
The MPD's take
DuBose said he doubts more signs warning motorists about highway construction would avert accidents. He said he believes too many people speed.
DuBose said MPD officers have strictly enforced interstate speed limits in the city for "a couple of years now. There was a problem of people on the interstate just blowing through here."
Jonathan Debord, the MPD's accident reconstructionist, said the accident investigation will take several weeks. He said he and others still don't know how fast McCrary was driving.
Said DuBose: "As far as we can tell, the 18-wheeler didn't apply brakes brakes, or they were not working at the time. We didn't see skid marks to indicate he did any breaking at all."