'Very sad situation’: 3 construction workers killed in I-40 crash; truck driver charged

IREDELL COUNTY, N.C. — North Carolina state troopers, along with the Occupational Safety and Health Division of the Department of Labor (OSHA), are investigating a crash that left three construction workers dead and shut down Interstate 40 for nearly six hours Thursday morning in Iredell County.

The crash happened around 3:30 a.m. in a construction zone in the westbound lanes of I-40 near mile marker 157, a few miles east of Statesville.

According to the North Carolina Department of Transportation, the workers who died were with a contractor hired by the NCDOT to replace a guardrail.

Around 8 a.m., troopers allowed Channel 9 crews to get closer to the crash scene. A 2019 Freightliner box truck could be seen with heavy front-end damage, as well as the construction vehicle it collided with.

[IMAGES: 3 construction workers killed in I-40 crash]

Investigators told Channel 9 the box truck, driven by 27-year-old Logan Casey, rear-ended a construction vehicle and the force of the impact was so strong that it propelled that vehicle into the three workers and then another construction vehicle ahead of them.

Troopers said the construction vehicle was in the right lane, which was closed, and the three workers were in the road ahead of that truck. The second construction vehicle was in front of the three workers. The box truck, traveling west, hit the first construction vehicle, which was launched into the three workers, and then that vehicle hit the lead construction vehicle.

The victims were pronounced dead at the scene. They were identified as Noah Hamilton, 20, Austin Melton, 21, and Dustin Gelinas, 20. They were all from Georgia, working for a contracted guardrail repair crew identified as DBI Services.

Iredell County Sheriff Darren Campbell thinks the addition of a cruiser with blue lights turned on at the site might have made a difference.

"Anytime you see blue lights, it gets your attention, especially late at night," Campbell said.

NCDOT said because it was maintenance project, the company was not required to have a patrol car present.

The standards are stricter for construction zones, but there is still no legal requirement for an officer to be there.

Campbell said the legislature should look into the issue.

"Any kind of extra warning device, lights or anything that can make it more visible, we should obviously do," Campbell said.

NCDOT is in the middle of a major study on lighting around construction zones.

Preliminary results show motorists do pay attention.

“Very sad situation. Three 20-year-old young men involved in this crash lost their lives. Our thoughts are with their families in Georgia today," said Jeff Swagger with North Carolina Highway Patrol.

Three construction workers were killed in a construction zone this morning on I-40 westbound in Iredell County, east of Statesville. Our Anthony Kustura has a live update from mile-marker 157 --> https://bit.ly/2T6Gyoe

Posted by WSOC-TV on Thursday, February 27, 2020

Casey was not seriously hurt. The Highway Patrol said he “failed to reduce speed and struck a stationary construction vehicle that was equipped with a crash cushion and arrow board.”

He has been charged with three counts of misdemeanor death by vehicle. Investigators said alcohol did not appear to be a factor in the crash.

Troopers said Casey was released after being given an unsecured bond.

Officials determined the construction vehicle was equipped with an arrow board and flashing amber lights and both were activated at the time of the collision.

“When we see those lights we’re instructed to it’s the law you move over. You slow down. You need to be going at least 20 mph under the speed limit," said Angela Kimbrell, who has been a truck driver for 15 years and sat just feet from the crash after the interstate was shut down.

The interstate was closed for roughly six hours, finally reopening around 9:30 a.m. Traffic, which had been backed up for miles, was being detoured off I-40 at exit 162.

According to Traffic Team 9′s Mark Taylor, construction work on the barrier was scheduled to take place in that stretch of I-40 between 10 p.m. Wednesday and 3 a.m. Thursday.

The Highway Patrol, Iredell County Sheriff’s Office and local fire departments were all called to the scene.

Accidents like these are the reason why lawmakers passed the “Move Over” law. In North Carolina, drivers are supposed to move over a lane when they come across an officer or utility and road maintenance vehicles.

Channel 9 did some digging on the company involved in the deadly crash. Triangle Central Warehouse, based in Durham, owns the box truck.

We reach out to them about five hours after the crash and they weren’t even aware of it yet. The company said the truck was hauling telecom supplies for a phone company, things like wires and cables.

Channel 9′s John Paul searched the company’s Department of Transportation number with the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and found several issues.

Triangle Central Warehouse had five fitness violations, which included drivers operating without a commercial driver’s license, and not having a medical certificate or having an expired one.

The out-of-service rate for the company was also nearly 30% for drivers. The national average is about 5%.

Additionally, the company has had four violations in the last two years for unsafe driving, including improper lane change, failure to obey a traffic signal and using a handheld device while operating.

In total, over the last 24 months, Triangle Central Warehouse had 18 violations.

Channel 9 is still looking to see if the driver, Casey, had any past issues.

>> Anchor John Paul is investigating those past violations and the other issues he found and is checking to see if the driver had any past issues. Watch the video below for his report or click here to watch.

Check back with wsoctv.com for updates on this story.