By ED RUNYAN
Three Trumbull County Marine Corps recruits died after this Pontiac G6 was struck March 31 by a tractor trailer truck on state Route 5 in Leavittsburg. The damage shown here was caused not only by the crash, but also by the Jaws of Life and other equipment used to free the occupants.
Donald P. Williams Jr., the Austintown man whose tractor-trailer hit the back of a car on state Route 5 on March 31, killing three Marine Corps recruits, told investigators that he thinks he might have “blacked out.”
Investigators also found two prescription medications used to treat infections and a bottle of the cold medicine NyQuil in the truck, though Williams said he didn’t use any drugs the day of the accident.
Williams was interviewed briefly at the accident scene and then again later at St. Joseph Health Center, where an investigator described him as groggy and “disoriented.”
Williams consented to having his blood tested and answered several questions posed by an investigator, but he refused to sign the statement after the investigator wrote down what Williams said.
In the statement, Williams said he was traveling west on state Route 5.
“The cars were stopped. All I remember is hitting the motorcycle,” Williams said, adding that he was wearing a seat belt and suffered injuries to his arms and hands.
“I think I might have blacked out,” Williams said when asked if he remembered anything else. When asked if he had ever blacked out before, Williams said no.
The highway patrol has not filed charges in the case. It did, however, say that a “contributing circumstance” in the crash was that Williams failed to stay a proper distance back from the recruiter’s car.
The highway patrol said the results of the blood test done on Williams are not available yet.
Dennis Watkins, Trumbull County prosecutor, said his office will take the findings of the investigation to a Trumbull County grand jury to determine whether any charges will be filed.
Also released by the highway patrol Monday was the statement of a witness who said he saw Williams’ truck hit the back of the recruiter’s car and heard the truck’s “Jake brake” come on.
Jeff Reider of Warren said he was in his vehicle on Burnett Road, stopped at the traffic light at Route 5, when he heard the Jake brake being applied.
“I heard the brakes. That’s why I looked up,” Reider said. “I heard brakes and looked up and watched a red and white semi didn’t even appear to have seen stopped cars and hit a red pickup truck and blue car into multiple other vehicles. After that, it was one bouncing off another.”
The red pickup truck was in front of the dark-blue Pontiac G6 that Marine recruiter Sgt. Charles Kenne of Youngstown was driving when the semi hit the back of both vehicles, the highway patrol said.
The Marine recruiter’s car was stopped at the traffic light with its brake lights lit at the time of the crash, the report says.
That information comes from the dash-mounted camera in the semi, which also suggests that the semi did not slow down before the crash.
“The speed appears to remain constant throughout the video, indicating the brakes were not applied,” an investigator wrote.
The driver of the pickup truck, Rudolph Palya of Windham, said he was just starting to move through the green light behind another vehicle and saw in his rear-view mirror that the semi was not going to stop in time to avoid the recruiter’s car.
“At that split second [impact with the recruiter’s car], I seen the semi start to raise up on the vehicle like a monster truck, and after that, it was chain-reaction impact.”
Kenne and a front-seat passenger in the G6, recruit Carl W. McDermott III, 19, of Masury, plus passengers in four other vehicles and a motorcycle were injured in the crash.
The crash killed the three back-seat passengers — Zachary A. Nolen, 19, of Mineral Ridge and Newton Falls, Joshua A. Sherbourne, 21, of Southington, and Michael T. Theodore Jr., 19, of Howland.
The two medicines in the semi, prescribed to Williams, were doxycycline and sulfamethoxazone, the highway patrol said. Both are used to treat infections.
The Web Site Drugs.com says some of the side effects of NyQuil are dizziness, drowsiness and excitability.