A 45-year-old South Dakota truck driver was killed after being struck by another trucker while looking at damages to his big rig in the emergency lane of Interstate-20 following a tire blow-out in McDuffie County last Friday afternoon.
The mishap, which occurred just beyond the Wrightsboro Road overpass at 1:41 p.m., included a wreck involving a small car driven by a Thomson woman that slightly injured her and two passengers, snarled westbound lane traffic for more than seven hours. At one point, traffic was backed up more than 10 miles. Traffic was not back to normal until about 9:30 p.m.
That mishap triggered another wreck a short time later, involving a third big rig, two SUVs and a car. It sent two persons to area hospitals, one of which was flown from the scene by medical helicopter.
McDuffie County Coroner Rhusha Mack identified the deceased trucker as Vincent Lee Harbert, of Black Hawk, S.D. Mr. Harbert was pronounced dead at the emergency room of McDuffie Regional Medical Center in Thomson. He died from blunt force trauma, Coroner Mack said.
It was the first fatality of the year in McDuffie County.
Mr. Harbert experienced a tire blow-out on the trailer of his big rig and had pulled over into the emergency lane so that he could assess the situation, according to Trooper First Class Mike Callaway of the Georgia State Patrol post in Thomson. The driver of a 2006 Hyundai Sonata, operated by Melinda West, of the 500 block of Railroad Street, Thomson, also pulled over because some debris from Mr. Harbert's truck reportedly had struck her car.
Before Ms. West could get out of her car, the vehicle was sideswiped by an oncoming transfer truck, which then struck Mr. Harbert's truck. The loaded trailer of Mr. Harbert's rig, meanwhile, was exposed after being slammed by the trailer of the other big rig, Trooper Callaway said.
Ms. West, along with passengers, Bridgett Rivers and Brenda Rivers, both of Warrenton, were slightly injured. They were treated by personnel with the McDuffie County Emergency Medical Services, as well as firefighters/first responders with the McDuffie County Fire/Rescue Services. All three were taken to the emergency room of the hospital in Thomson where they were treated and released.
The state trooper identified that trucker as 37-year-old David Carl Stalnaker, Jr., of Columbia, S.C., who was driving a 2007 Freightliner. Mr. Stalnaker since has been charged with one count of vehicular homicide in the second degree -- a misdemeanor -- and failure to maintain lane, according to records filed at the McDuffie County Law Enforcement Center. He since has been released on bond.
In a separate crash that followed shortly after 2 p.m., just west of the Thomson Exit 172, the driver of a tractor-trailer slammed into a Ford Explorer, and damaged two other vehicles in the process.
Trooper First Class Rich Fishel identified the truck driver as Sean Cornelius Johnson, of Covington, Ga., who was driving a 2005 Freightliner, owned by Penske Logistics. Mr. Johnson was charged with following too closely.
Two persons went to area hospitals from that wreck, which also tied up traffic for several hours. One of the more seriously injured was Jimmie Bernard Powell, of the 2800 block of Gordy Road, Augusta, who was driving the 1997 Explorer. Mr. Powell was flown by helicopter to the Medical College of Georgia Hospital in Augusta. He since has been released.
The drivers of the other two vehicles were Ralph Russaw, Jr., of Atlanta and SeressLavet Boulware, of New Zion, S.C. Ms. Boulware was taken from the scene to the local hospital by personnel with the Warren County Emergency Medical Services.