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Truck driver arrested in multi-vehicle accident on highway that killed 7 in Oregon


ALBANY, Ore. (AP) — The driver of a semi truck that plowed into a passenger van on Interstate 5 in western Oregon, killing 7 people in one of the state’s deadliest crashes in recent years, was arrested Friday on suspicion of manslaughter, DUI and other charges, police said.

Authorities say 11 people were in the van when it was hit. According to Oregon State Police, six people died at the scene, one died after being airlifted to a hospital, and four were injured.

State police said the names of the victims will not be made public until their families are notified. Authorities have not released any information about the condition of the four injured passengers.

Lincoln Clayton Smith, 52, of North Highlands, California, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving, manslaughter and assault, police said.

Smith was arraigned in the afternoon and was held without bail at the Marion County Jail. It was not clear whether his case had been assigned to the state attorney general’s office or to a specific attorney. The office did not immediately respond to a message asking about it, and an attorney whose name appears in court documents said she had not been formally assigned the case and could not comment.

At the indictment, a prosecutor said Smith refused a field sobriety test and was unable to concentrate and answer basic questions, the Salem Statesman Journal reported. The prosecutor also said that the day before the crash, Smith admitted to using “speed” and being in possession of methamphetamine, the paper said.

The husband of one of the dead passengers said their 1-year-old son had asked for his mother on Friday.

“My future has been destroyed,” he said, through an interpreter, by the Statesman Journal, which published a photo of the victims’ relatives and friends outside the Marion County Court annex after the indictment.

Two trucks and the van were involved in the accident Thursday afternoon near Albany, in a farming area in the Willamette Valley.

According to police, the truck driven by the suspect left the northbound lanes of I-5 and hit the van while it was parked along the road. The van was then pushed into the back of another truck parked in front of it.

Witnesses said the first truck swerved onto and off the road and hit the van without first applying the brakes, according to prosecutor’s comments, as reported by the Statesman Journal.

Northbound lanes of I-5 were closed for hours during an expert investigation, but reopened Thursday evening, state transportation officials said.

After the crash, bodies were seen covered in plastic in a nearby field, the Albany Democrat-Herald reported. Police and firefighters put a blue tarp on the wrecked van and placed a barrier near one of the trucks to block view of the crime scene, the news outlet said.

Life Flight Network confirmed that one of its emergency medical helicopters transported a patient to a hospital in the Salem area.

Witness Adrian Gonzalez told the Statesman Journal the van was maimed by the force of the impact.

“Judging by the damage, it looked like the van was trapped,” he said. “It hit really hard.”

The crash is one of Oregon’s deadliest in recent years.

A frontal collision on a remote road in eastern Oregon’s Harney County killed a family of seven, including five young children, in August 2018. A total of eight people were killed.

In December 2012, nine people died after a tour bus hurtled onto icy Interstate 84 and crashed through a guardrail and plunged several hundred feet off a steep embankment. The bus was carrying about 40 people when the accident happened in an area near Pendleton called Deadman Pass.

Another crash in 1988, also near Albany on I-5, 7 people were killed and 37 injured. Two babies were among those killed in the fiery 23-vehicle pile-up.

Albany is located between Salem and Eugene and is about 70 miles south of Portland. I-5 is the main north-south highway on the west coast.

Joanna Swanson

Joanna Swanson is Europe correspondent at the Thomson Reuters Foundation based in Brussels covering politics, culture, business, climate change, society, economies and inclusive tech. With specific focus in breaking news, she has covered some of the world's most significant stories.