12-year-old killed in Gaston County crash identified, police say

GASTON COUNTY, N.C. — A 12-year-old was killed when a box truck smashed into a slow-moving big rig on Interstate 85 in Gaston County Friday afternoon, authorities said.

Channel 9 reporter Ken Lemon said paramedics performed CPR on the teen. The victim was first reported to be around 10 years old.

The 12-year-old is identified as Zachary Saunders.

Chopper 9 flew over the scene where the box truck rear-ended a semitractor-trailer just before the bridge to Edgewood Road.

Police told Channel 9 the driver of the semitractor-trailer had pulled over to make a phone call and was pulling back out onto the highway when the box truck struck the back of the big rig.

"After about 10 seconds, in the right lane, I feel a bang," the driver of the 18-wheeler, Gary Thomas, said.

A witness told troopers he heard the driver of the box truck plead for someone to help his son.

The father was pinned behind the wheel and his son was unresponsive.

"It's just heartbreaking,” Thomas said. “I mean I never dreamed I would be in something like this. (It's) not something I want to be in or would like anybody to be in."

"The tractor-trailer had not gotten over all the way into the right lane at the time of impact," Highway Patrol Trooper Nathan Hanline said.

Thomas was going 5 mph at the time of impact and the driver of the box truck tried to avoid the semitractor-trailer, but couldn't get out of the way, troopers said.
Thomas was charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, police said. 
Traffic was backed up about 6 miles from the crash to the Ozark Avenue exit.

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