Kentucky State Police were investigatingÂ whether distracted driving caused a tractor-trailer to plow into an SUV carryingÂ eight people on Saturday, killing six and possibly triggering a serious crash onÂ the opposite side of the highway.
The truck driver is ‘telling us that he sawÂ the vehicle that was in front of him and he hit the brakes and he didn’t hitÂ them in time,’ Master Trooper Norman Chaffins said. ‘ … There was a reason forÂ that and we’re trying to figure out what the reason was.’
The late-morning crash was followed 15Â minutes later by a multi-vehicle crash on the opposite side of Interstate 65Â that injured three people. The site was just 15 miles from where 11 people diedÂ in 2010 when a tractor-trailer crossed the median and hit a van carrying aÂ Mennonite family.
Ten people in the van were killedÂ along withÂ the truck driver and the National Transportation Safety Board determined theÂ truck driver was distracted by his cellphone.
Chaffins said despite snow flurries,Â weatherÂ was not a factor in Saturday’s crashes. The driver wasÂ identified asÂ 47-year-old Ibrahim Fetic of Troy, Mich. Police wereÂ looking at his drivingÂ logs and collected a blood sample.
The six killed were identified as members ofÂ an extended family from Marion, Wis.
They were identified as driver JamesÂ Gollnow, 62, and his wife, Barbara Gollnow, 62; Marion Champnoise, 92, a friend; Sarina Gollnow, 18, relationship unknown; and foster childrenÂ GabrielÂ Zumig, 10, and Soledad Smith, 8.
The two survivors were also fosterÂ children.Â Police identified them as Hope Hoth, 15, who was transportedÂ to a hospital inÂ Lexington with burns and a broken spine; and AidianÂ Ejnik, 12, who was taken toÂ Kosair Children’s Hospital in LouisvilleÂ with cuts to the back of hisÂ head.
Chaffins described both of the children’sÂ injuries as non-life-threatening.
The two crashes shut down the busyÂ stretchÂ of highway for about five hours. The first happened at 11:13Â a.m. EST onÂ northbound I-65 south of Elizabethtown. In the second crash, four vehiclesÂ collided at the same location on the southbound side.
Chaffins said in the first crash, aÂ 1999Â Ford Expedition was hit from behind and then hit the car in frontÂ of it, butÂ the driver of that vehicle had only minor injuries. TheÂ Expedition wasÂ returning to Wisconsin after a trip to Orlando, Fla.
The Expedition was ‘totally engulfedÂ inÂ flames. It was totally destroyed by the fire,’ he said, adding, ‘It’s just aÂ charred mess.’
He said one eyewitness told police two peopleÂ emerged from the blaze and one appeared to be on fire.