2 dead after tractor-trailer crashes down runaway truck ramp, troopers say

CALDWELL COUNTY, N.C. — State troopers are investigating a double fatal crash Thursday morning north of Lenoir.

[IMAGES: 2 men killed in Caldwell County tractor-trailer wreck]

The Highway Patrol said two people were killed in the crash around 4 a.m. on Highway 321, near Waterfalls Road in Caldwell County.

We first updated WSOCTV news app users with a notification just before 5 a.m. Thursday about the deadly wreck and how to avoid it.

Download the WSOCTV news app for your smartphone and get updates on this developing story as they come in.

Troopers said two men from Orlando, Florida were killed when their tractor-trailer drove off onto a runaway truck ramp on the southbound side of Highway 321. Both men were thrown from the big rig.

Their names have not been released.

A passing driver spotted the truck about 250 yards off the highway and called 911.

Investigators said the truck was hauling several tons of spools of metal when it crashed down the mountainside.

The area is known for bad crashes because of the steep roadway coming out of the mountains, and troopers were looking into whether the brakes failed.

“The grade on this mountain is pretty steep, and unfortunately sometimes that can contribute to the braking of the vehicle, especially when they're loaded,” said Sgt. Chris Bentley.

Troopers said a kitten was found alive in the cab of the truck. It was turned over to Caldwell County Animal Control.

Officials with the Department of Transportation said the shoulder of Highway 321 was blocked until later in the morning, but investigators were on scene through noon.

Truckers in the area talked about the dangers of driving in the High Country and the importance of controlling speed.

"If you're going to do (45-50 mph,) those brakes ain't going to hold,” truck driver John Kelly said. “And if you're loaded and you have 80,000 (pounds) on, you're not going stop."