By Derek Spellman
A Diamond schoolteacher and her husband were in stable condition Thursday after suffering serious injuries in a pileup on Interstate 44 southeast of Joplin.
Authorities, meanwhile, announced that a Joplin man was among the two motorists killed in the series of accidents, and that they were continuing to reconstruct precisely what happened Wednesday morning on the fog-shrouded highway.
Sgt. Mike Watson of the Missouri State Highway Patrol said Anthony D. Embrey, 41, of Joplin, was killed in the first of several crashes that took place in swift succession shortly before 6:50 a.m. Wednesday. The chain of crashes led to a pileup in the eastbound lanes of I-44, between the 13.4- and 13.6-mile markers, and ultimately killed two motorists and injured seven others.
Embrey was driving a car that ran up under a semitrailer that was involved in the initial crash. He was pronounced dead at the scene. Embrey was a local projects manager for Empire District Electric Co.
A statement released Thursday night by Empire read:
“The Empire District Electric Co. is saddened to learn of the death” of one of its employees. “Tony was a well-respected member of the Empire family for seven years. The company and all of its employees send their most heartfelt thoughts and prayers to Tony’s family during this difficult time.”
Jasper County Coroner Jerry Neil on Thursday identified the second fatality as William Campbell, 31, of Baxter, Tenn. Neil said he also planned to obtain dental records for additional verification.
Campbell was driving a truck rig for Willis Shaw Express, based in Elm Springs, Ark., that ran into the rear of the same trailer as Embrey. He, too, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Among those injured in the ensuing crashes were Diamond schoolteacher Julia Price-Allison, 41, and her husband, Ricky Allison, 62, both of Quapaw, Okla. They suffered serious injuries and, after being flown to St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin, were transported to a hospital in Springfield.
Diamond Superintendent Patricia Wilson on Thursday morning said faculty and students were heartened by news that the Allisons were listed as being in stable condition in the burn unit of St. John’s Regional Health Center in Springfield.
“They hold on to that,” Wilson said of the students, teachers and staff.
Wilson said Price-Allison, a high-school math teacher, has been with the district for 11 years. Every school day, her husband drives her to school and picks her up, Wilson said.
Price-Allison often arrives early and stays late to tutor students, and to help with the academic team, Wilson said. The Allisons also are fixtures at football games, where they work the ticket gate.
“She is very involved with the students,” Wilson said.
Students on Thursday were making cards and posters for the Allisons, either to send to the couple or to hang in Price-Allison’s classroom, Wilson said.
Also injured in the crashes was Bernave C. Esquirel, 52, of Eagle Pass, Texas, who was driving a truck rig. He was taken by ambulance to St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Joplin. His condition was unavailable Thursday, but the patrol described his injuries as serious.
Also hurt Wednesday were Maria F. Paz, 51, of Springfield; James E. Orear, 57, of Joplin; James A. Harrell, 73, of Springfield; and David L. Wooliver, 64, of Springfield.
Paz was taken by ambulance to St. John’s in Joplin. Orear was taken to McCune-Brooks Regional Hospital in Carthage. Harrell and Wooliver were taken to Freeman Hospital West in Joplin.
Watson, the state patrol sergeant, said Thursday that investigators were still trying to determine what caused the initial accident involving two tractor-trailers and the car driven by Embrey. Dense fog may have contributed to that initial accident, authorities have said.
The site is within a couple of miles of the site of another pileup that happened under similar circumstances. In May 2002, in the westbound lanes of I-44 near mile-marker 12, four people died and eight were injured in a pileup involving eight truck rigs and six passenger vehicles. In that crash, too, heavy, patchy fog was cited as a possible contributing factor.
Statewide last year, fog or mist was cited in 12 fatality accidents, or a little more than 1.3 percent of all fatality accidents, according to Lt. John Hotz of the state patrol. Including injury and non-injury accidents, fog was cited in a total of 829 accidents, or about 0.5 percent of all accidents reported in 2007 in Missouri, Hotz said.
In 2006, the numbers were six fatality accidents, or 0.62 percent of all fatal crashes, and 806 crashes in foggy or misty conditions, or 0.48 percent of all crashes, Hotz said.
Laura Holloway, a spokeswoman for the Missouri Department of Transportation, said the state does not have a set of safety measures specifically targeting fog or mist, aside from general recommendations about safe driving in inclement weather and some flashing lights on an Interstate 70 bridge in Rocheport, near the Missouri River. The state also has electronic message signs along roadways that provide motorists with tips about safe driving.
Hotz said the best safeguards for driving in fog or mist are for motorists to reduce their speed, to increase the amount of space between their vehicle and others, and to use their headlights.
Globe Editor Carol Stark and Metro Editor Andy Ostmeyer contributed to this report.
By the numbers
Missouri State Highway Patrol troopers said the total number of vehicles involved in the series of crashes Wednesday was up to 17: nine tractor-trailers, a large construction crane truck, four passenger cars, two pickup trucks and a sport utility vehicle.
By Derek Spellman
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