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Work zone woes: Woman starts her own investigation after ‘terrifying’ crash on I-26

<i>WLOS</i><br/>Meredith Burroughs started her own investigation after a 'terrifying' crash on I-26.
Meredith Burroughs started her own investigation after a 'terrifying' crash on I-26.

By Denise Pridgen

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    ASHEVILLE, North Carolina (WLOS) — On paper, Meredith Burroughs is just a number – one of the hundreds of people involved in crashes on Interstate 26 between Asheville and Hendersonville since expansion of that roadway began in October 2019.

But the mother of five didn’t have many options in September when a pair of tires from an 18-wheeler came bouncing down the interstate toward her.

Burroughs was in traffic, a concrete barrier on one side of her and a guardrail on the other. She had nowhere to go.

“Hit me, flipped me twice,” Burroughs said of the tires. “I just remember thinking, ‘This is how I’m going to die.'”

Frequent travelers of I-26 between Asheville and Hendersonville are used to seeing work crews, equipment and long lines of vehicles.

What they’re not used to seeing is tires from a tractor-trailer coming toward them on the interstate.

But, that was the case on Sept. 8.

Burroughs, of Fleming Island, Florida, was on her way to a funeral in Bristol, Tennessee, when she came upon the tires on the stretch of I-26 near Fletcher.

Video of the tires was sent to News 13. Burroughs said the woman who took the video was in a vehicle behind the truck that lost the tires. She stopped the video right before the tires jumped the median and hit Burroughs’ rental car.

“I looked up and there was two semi-truck tires hopping the median,” Burroughs said. “It was terrifying. I’ve got five kids back home and a big family. I thought I was going to die.”

Burroughs is thankful she was in a sturdy vehicle.

“There was a van behind me with children. If the tires hadn’t hit me, it could have hit them. It could have killed those kids,” she said. “They were in a much more vulnerable vehicle.”

While Burroughs is thankful for all the help at the scene and since, she’s still upset that the truck and its driver haven’t been found.

Because the crash involved tires from an 18-wheeler, a trooper from the State Highway Patrol Motor Carrier Enforcement division investigated.

Trooper Glenn A. Tupper said he spoke to Burroughs and several people who stopped at the scene.

“No one knew where the tires had come from,” Tupper said.

Tupper said he worked that collision and another related one and then “traveled the immediate area in search of a truck missing tires. Such a vehicle was not located,” he said.

Burroughs said that didn’t make sense to her.

“When I left the accident scene, the state trooper assured me that he was going to go talk to the truck, which had stopped down the way,” Burroughs said. “Multiple witnesses had told him it had stopped.”

But no witness statements were included in Burroughs’ incident report.

“There’s nothing but me on there,” she said. “Just my name and a phantom driver.”

So, Burroughs called the trooper, who returned her call about a week later.

“He said he didn’t find the truck,” Burroughs said. “Basically, he told me there was nothing he could do.”

Driven by a need for accountability and closure, Burroughs has taken matters into her own hands.

She returned to Western North Carolina and visited businesses near the on-ramp where the truck entered I-26. Burroughs found one with cameras pointed toward the ramp. After sifting through hours of video, an IT specialist at the vehicle dealership found what Burroughs believed was the truck. She sent stills of the truck to the women who were in the vehicle behind it, one of whom took the video of the tires going down the interstate.

“She said it was the truck,” Burroughs said.

And the women’s van can be seen behind the truck.

Burroughs also joined a Hendersonville Facebook page and posted about her wreck there, looking for answers.

“I’m actually trying to locate the truck on my own, doing my own investigating,” said Burroughs, who is still dealing with anxiety and physical pain from the crash. “I just want closure.”

And she’s frustrated by the lack of it.

“There were multiple, multiple witnesses. So, why nobody’s name, nothing were on the police report?” Burroughs said.

“That’s what makes me mad. It’s like it wasn’t important to them to find the truck.”

The stretch of I-26 between Asheville and Hendersonville has become a source of aggravation to area drivers, with crashes happening every day, several times a day.

According to NCDOT data, I-26 in Buncombe and Henderson counties ranked No. 11 and No. 25, respectively, in crashes in 2018, and No. 8 and No. 19 in 2019. Then, construction started in October 2019. and that stretch of I-26 moved up to No. 3 and No. 4 for most crashes in a work zone in the state by 2020.

Master Trooper Rohn Silvers said most of those wrecks were property damage only.

“It’s not as many severe crashes as there are property damage accidents due to the traffic,” Silvers said.

He said there are several reasons for that. Silvers said troopers can’t perform as many enforcement measures because of work zone restrictions.

“Anytime you take an area that is being regularly patrolled and restrict it to a degree, there’s always a possibility of people maybe going a little faster than they should,” Silvers said.

He said drivers should watch their speeds and following distances and put down their mobile devices.

“And be more observant of traffic around them,” Silvers said. “People are following too closely and traveling at a higher rate of speed than they need to be in a construction zone.”

Burroughs agreed. She said that is especially true for truck drivers, because their vehicles are so large and the work zone so congested.

“The truck drivers just need to pay much more attention to their trucks because they can kill people,” she said.

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