NTSB releases 2021 multivehicle fatal crash report

Published 6:26 am Saturday, May 27, 2023

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By Lanell Downs Smith

The Lowndes Signal

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has issued a report with findings related to the June 19, 2021 multivehicle crash which claimed the lives of ten people on Interstate Highway 65 near Greenville.

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According to the report issued April 26, the NTSB investigation revealed that the probable cause of the crash was the unsafe speeds of multiple vehicles during rain, low visibility, and wet road conditions. A postcrash fire in the passenger van involved in the crash was ruled to have contributed to the deaths of the 10 persons who died in the crash.

Eight Tallapoosa Girls Ranch van occupants – a 3-year-old, 8-year-old, 12-year-old,  14-year-old, 15-year-old, two 16-year-olds, and a 17-year-old – sustained fatal fire- and crash-related injuries. Van driver Candice Gulley survived but sustained serious injuries, while Ford Explorer passengers, Cody Fox, 29 and his nine-month-old daughter were pronounced dead at the scene.

“Our hearts are heavy today,” ranch representatives posted on social media after the crash. “Our ranch has suffered great loss. As some of you may have heard, one of our ranch vehicles was involved in a multiple-car accident this afternoon. Please send prayers our way as we navigate this difficult time.”

The crash occurred in the northbound lanes of I-65 near mile marker 138 at the northern end of a bridge crossing over Pigeon Creek in Butler County. Ten passenger vehicles and two commercial trucks were directly involved in the crash. Three of those – a 2020 Ford Explorer, a 2005 Freightliner Cascadia, and a 2020 Volvo truck-tractor – are considered to be striking vehicles that came up the traffic queue and struck vehicles in the queue.

“As the Ford Explorer and the Volvo auto-transporter were traveling across teh bridge, several other vehicles ahead of them at the northbound end of the bridge were slowing, were already stopped, or had been involved in minor collisions, creating a traffic queue,” the report described. 

Seven passenger vehicles waited in the queue as the Ford Explorer and Volvo auto-transporter approached the bridge at a recorded speed above the posted limit of 70 miles per hour (MPH). 

The report outlines the details and timeline of the crash. The Ford Explorer struck a waiting Acura TLX, creating a series of corresponding crashes. The Volvo driver braked and steered left, ultimately striking the Ford Explorer at around 51 MPH.

The ensuing cascade of crash left vehicles clustered on and off the roadway. Following the collision, a postcrash fire erupted, engulfing six vehicles in the median, causing extensive fire- and heat-related damage.

“Witness photographs showed the fire initially burning along the right side of the Freightliner truck,” the report continued. “However, neither the exact origin of the fire nor the exact ignition source could be determined due to the extent and severity of the fire damage.”

According to the NTSB report, postcrash toxicological testing revealed no potential impairment of the striking vehicle drivers. Braking and steering maneuvers suggest the drivers attempted to avoid the collisions. While fire damage obscured some evidence, no preexisting mechanical defects or deficiencies were found that could have contributed to the crash.

The report notes that in 2020, 28% of fatal crashes in the United States were speeding related. Speeding was found to be a contributing factor in more fatal crashes on wet roadways that dry roads.

Light rain was falling at the time of the crash. The roadway was in good condition, but the Alabama Department of Transportation (ALDOT) has reported an increased percentage of vehicle crashes when roadways are wet.

The report notes that in 2020, 28% of fatal crashes in the United States were speeding related. Speeding was found to be a contributing factor in more fatal crashes on wet roadways that dry roads.

To view the full report, visit www.ntsb.gov/investigations.