Police: Driver Inattention Caused Deadly New York Crash

August 20, 2012

A truck driver wasn’t paying attention when he plowed into a line of cars stopping for a paving project on a rural road in upstate New York last month, triggering a fiery crash that killed six people, state police said Friday.

Investigator Rick Hathaway said no charges have been brought against James Mills Jr. of Myerstown, Pa. The Jefferson County district attorney will determine whether to charge Mills.

The 18-wheeler was carrying a full load of yogurt and headed south on a straight, slightly downhill stretch of the two-way highway near the Fort Drum Army post when it slammed into an SUV on July 19, setting off a chain reaction that ultimately involved six cars.

Mills tried to brake before the impact and didn’t appear to be impaired or distracted. An inspection of his cellphone showed no texts or calls immediately before the accident, Hathaway said at the time.

Hathaway said it appears all the drivers had plenty of warning about the repaving project, but Mills didn’t notice the caution signs until it was too late. The state Department of Transportation had inspected the site the morning of the crash and found that the signs met department standards.

Killed in the SUV that exploded in flames was Laurie Dana, 42, an elementary school speech therapist from Lawrence, a rural town about 60 miles northeast of the crash site and 15 miles south of the Canadian border. Also killed in that vehicle were her two daughters, Caitlyn, 14, and Lauryn, 11, and her mother-in-law, Janet Dana, 69. The fifth victim was Shannon Planty, 14, a friend of Caitlyn’s.

The driver of the other SUV was identified as Maryann Gregory, 59, of Dickinson Center in Franklin County. Gregory died later that day at a hospital.

The lone occupant of a DOT truck involved, Lewis L. Lottie Jr., 54, was initially in critical condition but was listed Friday in good condition at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse.

The tractor-trailer is owned by MBM Customized Foodservice Distribution, based in Rocky Mount, N.C. A spokesman for the company didn’t immediately return a call seeking comment Friday afternoon.

Trucks operated by the company have been involved in 75 accidents over the past two years, including one crash that killed one person and 23 crashes that resulted in at least one injury, according to data compiled by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

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