STANLEY Three men are dead following a major crash Friday morning on U.S. Highway 2 about three miles east of Stanley. Authorities cite much-reduced visibility caused by a heavy morning fog as a major contributor to the incident.
Details were slow to surface because rescue crews and investigators had to wait five hours after the 6:40 a.m. crash for the intense oil fire caused by an tanker that exploded upon impact to finish its burn. What remained after the thick, black smoke cleared was a scene of twisted metal where the vehicles burned, with other vehicles farther out in the roadway or overturned in the ditch.
According to the investigation conducted by the North Dakota Highway Patrol, Vernon Wright, 49, Hiram, Ga., was in the process of turning his eastbound 2004 Peterbilt semi-truck pulling a 2012 Polar Tanker trailer north onto 79th Avenue Northwest, a gravel road, in the heavy fog.
Emergency personnel responding to a major crash on U.S. Highway 2, three miles east of Stanley, survey the scene once the fire went out late Friday morning. Three people died in the incident and three others were injured.
Ricky Hovland, 54, Minot, saw the truck with just enough time to brake his westbound 2013 Ford F150 and swerve right, but the Peterbilt still struck the driver's side of the vehicle, forcing the Ford to overturn into the north ditch, coming to rest on the driver's side.
An unidentified 41-year-old Minot man then struck the left side of the Peterbilt's tanker trailer with his 2002 Chevrolet Silverado before being hit from the rear by a 2012 Freightliner Vac truck driven by John Ofsthun Sr., 55, Granville, which also hit the tanker trailer.
The tanker trailer, which was loaded with oil from a rural well site, then exploded upon impact from a 2013 GMC Sierra driven by an unidentified, 26-year-old Wahpeton man.
The fire from the explosion caught the Peterbilt, the Silverado, the Freightliner, and the GMC on fire, and they continued to burn until the oil was depleted five hours later.
A Ford 450 towing an enclosed trailer swerved into the north ditch, avoiding the crash and coming to rest in the north ditch. No driver or passenger information is available for this uninvoled vehicle.
The crash shut down the highway for a couple miles in each direction, where the North Dakota Highway Patrol had set up a detour that traveled primarily along Old Highway 2. It took 45 minutes to clear the backlog of traffic stopped ahead of the accident from both the east and the west.
The unidentified driver of the Chevrolet, and the driver and a 23-year-old male passenger of the GMC, all died in the incident and the details point to a gruesome picture.
Whereas the other three drivers, who were all injured and transported to Trinity Hospital in Minot, are said to have worn their seatbelts, the remains of the other vehicles didn't leave enough evidence to determine if the occupants had worn theirs.
The highway patrol says that identification of the deceased may take up to a week to determine. After positive identification is made the family will be notified before the names are released.