9 killed in Okla. turnpike traffic wreck
Associated Press Writer
MIAMI, Okla. (AP) – Nine people died Friday when a tractor-trailer slammed into a line of cars stopped by an earlier accident on a northeast Oklahoma turnpike, leaving twisted metal and debris strewn on the highway and stranding miles of traffic in scorching heat.
The final victim was found hours after the crash when tow trucks were finally able to dislodge the rig from a car it had crushed.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. George Brown said eastbound traffic was stopped about 1 p.m. on the Will Rogers Turnpike northeast of Miami because of an earlier crash when the big rig slammed into at least three cars, which then crashed into more vehicles.
“It looks like a war zone,” he said. “There’s mangled metal everywhere. There’s debris, fluids, dead bodies.”
Investigators don’t believe the driver of the tractor-trailer tried to stop before the crash that left eight adults and one child dead, Brown said. The speed limit in the area is 75 mph.
A criminal investigation was being conducted, as is routine after a fatal accident, and blood was drawn from the truck driver, Brown said. There was no indication alcohol was involved, he said.
Tow truck driver Bob Garner of Miami, one of the first on the scene, said two people were rescued from mangled wreckage.
“This is the worst one I’ve ever worked,” said Garner, who has been a tow truck driver for 30 years.
Jericho Malphrus, 17, was driving on the turnpike with his mom to his hometown of Orient, Ohio, after touring a Bible college in Broken Arrow.
“Mainly what struck me was the amount of debris everywhere,” Malphrus said. “There were clothes and snacks and debris. Someone’s suitcase had busted open and a little girl’s clothes were everywhere.”
His mother, Jodi Malphrus, said the accident happened about 30 car lengths ahead of her and her son.
“It was like somebody had dropped a bomb,” she said. “It was horrific.”
She said the first vehicle hit by the truck was an SUV, which was so mangled it could barely be identified as a vehicle.
Brown said the truck driver was taken to an area hospital, as was a 12-year-old girl who was pinned for a time in a wrecked vehicle before emergency workers could free her. He did not know their medical conditions.
Heather Collier, a spokeswoman for Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Mo., said her hospital saw eight patients from the accident, but she said she could not disclose their medical conditions.
The turnpike’s eastbound lanes were closed for hours after the accident, which occurred near the border with Missouri and Kansas. Three more accidents happened in the eastbound lanes as cars slowed following the tractor-trailer wreck, and there was later a four-car crash on the westbound side of the turnpike. None of the subsequent accidents involved fatalities.
Stalled traffic baked in 100-degree weather and emergency crews delivered water to some stranded motorists. Some got out of their vehicles and walked along the highway shoulder while they waited. Workers from a nearby casino brought bottled water, and emergency officials brought a tanker truck to spray people.
Shortly after 5 p.m., one eastbound lane was opened and traffic slowly began to move.