MATTOON — Drivers jockeying for a reduction to one-lane traffic and a distracted driver apparently contributed to the nine-vehicle crash that resulted in three deaths Monday on Interstate 57, an Illinois State Police officer said.
Coles County Coroner Ed Schniers on Tuesday released the names of the women killed Monday evening in the multi-vehicle pileup. The deceased are Sheila H. Douglas, 61, of Batesville, Miss.; and Doris Hamblin-Mayo, 68, and Juanita Hall, 80, both of Sarah, Miss. They were all passengers in a vehicle that caught fire after the accident’s impact.
It might be a couple of days before State Police identify all the victims from the pileup just north of the I-57 Mile 192 interchange, State Police Sgt. Bill Emery said.
“We had some treated and released at the scene and 13 people were taken to hospitals: eight to Sarah Bush Lincoln Health Center and five to Carle in Urbana.
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“One was taken by helicopter to Springfield from one hospital. She was the driver of the vehicle that caught fire,” Emery said.
Emery said details of how the different collisions occurred at shortly after 5 p.m. Monday are still studied by accident reconstructionists.
“It has been determined the vehicle that caught fire was not the first one hit. It was actually a red Trailblazer that was hit first,” Emery said. “There are still a lot of questions to be answered.”
The investigation so far indicates motorists were preparing to switch lanes for one-lane traffic in a construction zone a few miles north of Mattoon, Emery said.
“They wanted to get ready for one lane only. The vehicles were slowing, but it didn’t appear a semi-truck driver did,” Emery said.
It is not yet clear if the truck driver was distracted or had fallen asleep at the wheel, Emery said.
The resulting crash scene and debris field forced the closure of the I-57 northbound lanes for more than seven hours, only reopening after 1 a.m. Tuesday. Traffic along the interstate was diverted at the 192 interchange west to U.S. 45, causing backups due to the high volume of traffic with the end of the Memorial Day weekend.
Dozens of local law enforcement officers, firefighters, medical responders and Illinois Department of Transportation workers helped with the emergency response, including the detouring of traffic overnight. Emery said this was one of the longest closures of two lanes of I-57 in the Pesotum district.