The stretch of Interstate 80 west of Lincoln turned deadly for the second weekend in a row.
Five people were killed in collisions on the Interstate between Lincoln and York on Sunday morning. The first collision claimed four lives, and traffic problems related to it may have contributed to two other crashes Sunday, said Cody Thomas, a spokesman for the Nebraska State Patrol. The crashes all occurred on eastbound I-80 over a span of about four hours and within 14 miles of one another, according to the patrol.
A week ago, there were crashes in the same general area Sunday and Monday. Those crashes left one person dead and more than a dozen injured. The crashes were caused by dust clouds from nearby fields, and more than 40 vehicles were ensnared in the pileups.
Sunday’s collisions were not dust-related.
The 14 rural Interstate fatalities so far this year is the highest number recorded since an equal number of deaths was recorded in 2005 for the same time period, said Fred Zwonechek, administrator for the Nebraska Department of Transportation’s Highway Safety Office. The number was exceeded only in 2002, when 19 deaths were recorded on rural I-80, Zwonechek said.
The first collision Sunday occurred when a westbound car with five people inside veered through the median and collided with an oncoming eastbound vehicle.
According to the Seward County Sheriff’s Office, the driver overcorrected after drifting onto the shoulder of westbound I-80 and encountering rumble strips. Three unrestrained passengers in the vehicle were ejected and killed instantly. A fourth passenger also died at the scene. The ages of the deceased were 49, 20, 19 and 19.
The driver of the westbound car, a 20-year-old, and the driver of the vehicle that was struck, a 76-year-old, had life-threatening injuries and were taken by helicopter to an area hospital.
Ben Backus was going home to Scottsbluff after a weekend in Lincoln when he saw the aftermath of the first crash near the Milford rest area. The crash had occurred a few hours earlier.
“The one vehicle looked like a ball of metal,” he said. “It was completely caved in.”
Eastbound traffic was backed up behind that crash, and 3 miles farther west, he passed a fiery collision that had just occurred in the eastbound lanes. It would claim the life of a semitrailer truck driver.
“We started seeing smoke,” he said. “It looked like one semi had plowed into the back of another and was completely engulfed in flames.”
Backus rolled down the window to take pictures and said the heat from across the Interstate was almost unbearable. It was hard to imagine, he said, how firefighters would be able to tackle it.
The collision and flames claimed the life of a semitrailer truck driver from Columbus, Ohio, according to the State Patrol. That crash occurred about 10 a.m.
According to the patrol, Adiaziz Jama, 33, drove into the rear of another semi, causing a chain reaction that involved a third semi and a Ram pickup.
Jama died, and a passenger, Mohamed Apdullahi, 30, was taken to a hospital with injuries that were not believed to be life-threatening.
Investigators believe that Jama may have been texting at the time of the crash, according to a statement from the patrol.
That crash occurred near the Seward exit.
The crashes temporarily closed eastbound I-80, and eastbound traffic was diverted off the Interstate at Seward, the patrol said.
“It’s been a bad day on I-80 between Lincoln and York with multiple fatality crashes,” the patrol tweeted.
Then, at 11:35 a.m., about 11 miles west of the detour, the driver of an eastbound Chevrolet SUV failed to realize that traffic had slowed and rear-ended a semi. The driver of the SUV, Jeffrey Eymann, 68, of Grand Island, was taken to a hospital with injuries that weren’t believed to be life-threatening.