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Beer bottles found in van involved in fiery I-40 crash

3:00 PM, Nov 12, 2012   |    comments
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  • Picture of crash, courtesy of R. Gideon
  • View of Friday I-40 crash from TDOT Smartway Camera
    

Update: 11/12/2012

Investigators with the Knoxville Police Department say that multiple beer cans were found inside and outside of the GMC van that was involved in the collision Friday afternoon. 

KPD also says they have statements from witnesses to the crash saying that they could smell alcohol coming from the van's driver, Oliver Butler, 64, of Rockwood.

According the to the preliminary investigation, the van was traveling west bound on I-40 when it suddenly swerved toward the median.

When the van went into the median and came out it went airborne and landed on top of an eastbound Mercedes SUV. The van then overturned and caught fire.  Witnesses were able to get Butler out of the van before it caught fire.  He is in critical condition at UT Medical Center.

A Simpsonville, Kentucky family was in that SUV.  Michelle Whittlet, 37; Bryan Whittlet, 42; Megan Whittlet, 9; and Luke Whittlet, 8.  All four were transported to UT Medical Center on Friday.  Michelle Whittlet has been discharged, the remaining family members are in stable condition.

KPD says charges are pending on the conclusion of the investigation.

Original Story:

A fiery crash shut down Interstate 40 in East Knox County Friday evening for over an hour.

The wreck, at milemarker 396 (west of Strawberry Plains exit) was reported around 5:20 p.m. Friday evening.

Kim Sepesi with Rural/Metro says two vehicles were involved in a head-on collision. One was a van with one occupant, which was on its top and on fire.  The other vehicle was a GMC SUV with four occupants.

"I began to pray. I could tell it's pretty bad," Ronald Gideon described the crash after he first saw it.

Witnesses were able to pull the driver of the van out of the wreckage as the van caught fire.

"The flames got really, really high -- the one that burned up. the fire department was working on it," he added.

All five people were transported to UT Medical Center.  One child was transported by Lifestar helicopter due to serious injuries.  Three patients were transported "emergency traffic" to UT by ambulance, one other person was transported non-emergency to UT.  

I-40 eastbound is shut down at exit 394 (Asheville Hwy.) and traffic is being diverted off there.  TDOT says there is about a mile of traffic that is trapped between that exit and the wreck, and they are working to get those vehicles turned around.

Both lanes of the highway are back open.

The Knoxville Police Department will be conducting an investigation into why and how the crash happened.

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