LINCOLN, Neb. — Five people died in two crashes in western Nebraska that began when mechanical problems forced a truck to stop on Interstate 80, investigators said Monday.
The first crash occurred early Sunday morning about 40 miles from the Wyoming border, where a tractor-trailer rig ran into the stalled truck on the interstate's westbound lanes. A second semi then struck a car that had stopped because of the first accident, and the driver of that rig faces manslaughter charges.
The tractor-trailer driver who hit the stalled truck in the first accident died. The second fatal crash happened about two miles east of the first site, when authorities say rig driver Josef Slezak, 36, of River Grove, Ill., slammed into the back of a 2010 Ford Mustang.
The force of the crash pushed the Mustang into a 2007 Toyota Corolla, which in turn was shoved beneath the semi that was sitting ahead of it. The lone driver of the Mustang died, as did the Corolla driver and two juveniles who were passengers.
The crash in the Nebraska Panhandle kept the interstate closed for more than 14 hours Sunday.
Slezak is charged with four counts of manslaughter, a felony, and one count of careless driving, a misdemeanor, said Cheyenne County Attorney Paul Schaub. Slezak is being held in the Cheyenne County Jail on a $1 million bond, Schaub said. Authorities collected blood and urine samples for testing. It's unclear if Slezak has an attorney yet.
Authorities said they were not releasing the names of the crash victims because family members are still being notified.
William David Wiener, who was driving the semi that the Corolla struck, told investigators that truckers had been warning one another about the crash over the citizens band radio system, according to an affidavit filed in Cheyenne County District Court. He said he was sitting in the traffic line when he spotted Slezak's tractor-trailer in his rearview mirror.
Slezak was "shivering and shaking, and appeared to be in shock" after the accident, according to the affidavit, but he did not make any statements to investigators.
Wiener said Slezak's truck did not appear to slow down before it struck the car. An accident reconstructionist who examined the scene concluded Slezak failed to slow down and exercise caution on the road.