BOONE COUNTY, Ind. -- Three people are dead and 14 were taken to the hospital after a semi-tractor trailer plowed through slow moving traffic on I-65 in Boone County, according to the Boone County Sheriff's Office.
Shortly after 11 a.m. Sunday, responders were called to I-65 northbound at mile maker 129.4, near the Whitestown Parkway exit, in regards to the serious crash.
Officials say the crash involved a semi and eight other vehicles.
Witnesses told responders that a fire broke out after the collision when a vehicle was pinned against a guardrail by the semi. Three people inside the vehicle have been pronounced dead. They have been identified as 1-year-old Hadley Tomey, 21-year-old Mariah Tomey and 19-year-old Kaylee Kirk, also known as Kaden, all of Lebanon.
Another vehicle was pushed over the guardrail and flipped onto its driver's side. Two people inside had to be extracted.
The BCSO says 13 people were taken to St. Vincent’s Hospital and another was taken to Riley Children's Hospital. None of their injuries appear to be life threatening.
Six additional vehicles sustained serious damage in the crash.
I-65 northbound and I-865 westbound were closed about four hours during an investigation.
The driver of the semi, 34-year-old Mathew Lewis Small, of Michigan, told authorities he was headed northbound on I-65 when he looked down to set his coffee mug down and ran into slowing traffic, according to the BCSO.
Small has been charged with three counts of reckless homicide and booked into the Boone County Jail.
Stephanie Spencer was a family-friend of Mariah. She shared with us that Mariah was a special girl and always put a smile on everybody’s face.
“If you don’t put your coffee mug or your phone or anything anyway, it’s going to take away lives, and that’s what it did to one of my friends yesterday," Spencer shared.
It’s the third fatal accident in central Indiana involving a truck since July. According to data from 2017, 10 % of all fatal accidents in Indiana involved trucks, with more than 4,700 fatalities nationally.
72% of those victims were passengers in the other cars.
"With the economy we have, you’re seeing a lot more trucks on the road, and the problem is there’s not enough drivers," said Indianapolis based attorney David Craig of Craig, Kelley & Faultless. "So a lot of trucking companies end up hiring drivers that maybe aren't as qualified, aren't as experienced, and they put them on the road.”
Craig specializes in these cases and says there's a lot to investigate.
“There's an electronic control module on his truck, and when you get that data you'll be able to find... was he going fast? Did he have it on cruise control? Did he break? When did he break? And they’ll be able to determine all those things,” Craig said.
Craig also says trucks often have GPS or electronic logs which could track how long Small was on the road for, and when he rested.
"In this day in age you can put together what happened pretty easily if you have the right team of experts,” Craig said
The BCSO says the the investigation into the crash and circumstances surrounding it could take up to six months to complete.
In addition to emphasizing the importance of paying attention and eliminating distractions while on the road, Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen has released the following statement regarding the tragedy and ongoing investigation:
Thank you for being patient with us during this investigation. I have spoken to both families personally and we are working on helping them through these difficult decisions that they must make for their loved ones. I have also spoken to Mr. Small. He is very regretful and upset for what happened and wanted me to relay the information on this handwritten note. There are many aspects of this crash that will be looked into including videos that may exist, device data, forensic analysis, autopsy results, blood work results, etc. This is all part of a detailed investigation and our FACT Team, along with our criminal investigation division, does an excellent job in investigating these types of crashes. We will also be looking at other factors in our investigation such as why the traffic was backed up and in a Que on northbound I-65. Although this is a very tragic event, it will take us time to complete a detailed reconstruction of this crash. Please continue to think about and pray for all of these families as they walk through this difficult journey.
Sheriff Nielsen also provided the following note on the behalf of Small:
Traders Point Christian Church also released a statement in regards to the crash:
Traders Point Christian Church is deeply saddened by this tragic situation and is praying for the families involved. The Traders Point Christian Church Northwest campus (in The Point) will be open from 4 to 8 p.m. today (Monday) for prayer and pastoral counseling. Anyone in our community who needs support is welcome to attend.