MILAN, Ohio — A preliminary investigation of the complicated Ohio Turnpike crashes that killed three people and injured a state trooper indicates that drivers’ speeds, road conditions, and weather factored into the collisions, which were mostly caused by tractor-trailers.
An initial report by the Ohio State Highway Patrol will be soon be sent to the Sandusky County prosecutor to consider possible charges related to the March 12 crashes in the eastbound lanes.
“Obviously the road conditions and weather conditions were factors in the crash. However, driver error is certainly attributed to these crashes because you have to be able to ... realize that if you can’t see, you shouldn’t be driving fast,” said Lt. Brett Gockstetter, of the Milan post.
Authorities believe Hannah Matheny, 20, of Parma died after the Ford Focus she was riding in was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer driven by Tahir Isic, 46, of Wheaton, Ill.
The Focus, driven by Claire Arble, had stopped between the center and right lanes near mile marker 102.
Two tractor-trailers ahead had been involved in a minor collision. In that crash, a truck driven by Richard Lance, 49, of Mogadore, Ohio, collided with a truck driven by Sefik Mehovic, 59, of Sheboygan, Wis.
Mr. Isic told authorities he didn’t see the Focus as he tried to change lanes to get around other trucks that had slowed or stopped in reaction to the crash ahead. Mr. Isic allegedly told authorities he was driving about 40 to 45 mph. He suffered minor injuries and was not taken to the hospital, authorities said. The collision entangled two other semis.
Mr. Isic could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
A woman who answered the phone at the Memphis-based Comtrak Logistics, identified on police reports as being affiliated with the tractor-trailer, referred a reporter to David Zeilstra of HubGroup, a Downers Grove, Ill.,-based company. Mr. Zeilstra, the company’s vice president, secretary, and general counsel, did not return a call seeking comment.
Highway Patrol Trooper Andrew Clouser was injured after responding to the scene of the Focus crash. He was listed in fair condition Thursday at Mercy St. Vincent Medical Center in Toledo.
Trooper Clouser had left his car to walk to the scene of the Focus crash when a vehicle struck his car, said Lieutenant Gockstetter.
Trooper Clouser returned to check on victims involved in that crash. That’s when a semi driven at an unknown speed by Grzegorz Piwowarczyk, 42, of Palatine, Ill., crashed into vehicles, pinning Trooper Clouser between two cars.
Mr. Piwowarczyk was pronounced dead at the scene.
The semi traveled from the middle lane to the left lane, said Trooper Stephen Vanderford, of the Milan post. He said a statement from another motorist indicated the truck driver may have been trying to avoid debris.
Trooper Vanderford helped move the vehicles pinning the injured trooper. The window of the locked patrol car was smashed so the car could be put in neutral and moved, authorities said.
The day’s third fatality along the turnpike took place near milepost 101 as traffic started to back up. Janice Robb, 66, of Schererville, Ind., a passenger in a vehicle driven by her husband Duane Robb, 68, was killed. He allegedly told police he was driving about 60 mph; the vehicle hit a truck in front of it driven by Michael Clem, 31, of Brook Park, Ohio, who police said suffered minor injuries. Mr. Robb and another passenger, John Robb, 31, were injured and have since been discharged from ProMedica Toledo Hospital. Duane Robb could not be reached for comment.
Earlier that day, a westbound turnpike crash near milepost 113 in Erie County tied up traffic for hours and resulted in minor injuries for three people.
Authorities said that crash was caused by tractor-trailer driver Lupe Loya, 65, of Puyallup, Wash.
He was cited for failure to control after authorities said he lost control of his semi amid high winds. Nine commercial vehicles and a passenger vehicle were involved in that collision.
Thirty people were transported from the turnpike crashes to hospitals, and an estimated 90 or more vehicles were damaged or stuck in the eastbound pileups.
Lieutenant Gockstetter said dozens of officials have been involved in the investigation. Troopers have gathered at the Milan post to examine diagrams and review statements as they try to reconstruct the timeline and people involved.
Troopers are seeking photographs taken by motorists of the scene as they continue the investigation. They also are searching for a car hauler that left the scene of the eastbound collision before its driver gave a statement.