A family of four is dead after a devastating accident in West Virginia during a road trip to see family over spring break. The mini-van the North Carolina family was driving in was hit by a semi-truck that had crossed the median, a grim reminder of the devastation that can be caused when a semi-truck and passenger vehicle collide. Officials, meanwhile, battled a fiery crash site as they worked to reach the victims.
Forest Fire and Traffic Backups Complicate Camp Creek Truck Crash
The fatal Camp Creek truck crash took place at about 5:30 p.m. on April 13, 2017, as the Gilley family traveled north on Interstate 77 to see Christine Gilley’s parents in Irondale, Ohio.
According to Mercer County Emergency Services Director Tim Farley, a southbound semi-truck hauling canned food was involved in the accident, crossing the centerline and colliding with the Gilley’s oncoming mini-van.
“It appeared the truck was traveling southbound and for whatever reason, he lost control, crossed through the median into the northbound traffic and that’s where he struck the passenger vehicle,” Farley said in a statement on the Camp Creek truck crash.
After colliding with the mini-van, the semi-truck overturned and caught fire. Luckily for Bertram Copeland, the truck driver and a resident of Rockford, Illinois, the cab of the big rig broke free during the crash and came to rest about 75 feet from the remainder of the burning vehicle. Farley says Copeland was also thrown from the vehicle.
Facing life-threatening injuries, Copeland was transported by HealthNet helicopter to Charleston Area Medical Center, where he remained in stable condition ten days later with multiple broken bones.
Meanwhile, first responders faced the challenges of not only the remote location of the crash, but a forest fire that had been started when the semi-truck ignited, and lengthy resulting traffic backups in the area. The Bluestone Valley Volunteer Fire Department, East River Volunteer Fire Department, Princeton Rescue Squad, and West Virginia State Police all responded to the accident, but the Gilley family was pronounced dead at the scene.
Truck Crash Investigation Ongoing with West Virginia State Police
The West Virginia State Police have an ongoing investigation into the Camp Creek truck crash and are working alongside the Public Service Commission and the state Division of Highways.
Cpl. B.J. Garretson, the lead investigator of the crash, says there is no reason to revisit the crash cause that they initially suspected.
“The initial findings are under investigation,” Garretson said in an interview with the Bluefield Daily Telegraph. “New information is slowly being uncovered as to how the accident may have happened.”
As reconstruction experts analyze the accident to confirm whether the semi-truck crossed the median and caused the crash, Garretson says police will wait to file any possible charges.
“Charges haven’t been filed yet because of the potential new circumstances that have been brought to light,” Garretson continued. “I am not going forward with any charges until I am certain of the exact cause of the wreck.”
Officials have not said when an accident report can be expected.
Rowan County Family Mourned by Community
While authorities work to make sense of the Camp Creek truck crash in West Virginia, Rowan County in North Carolina wrestles with the grief of losing the four members of the Gilley family, who were well-loved in their community.
Forty-eight-year-old David and 42-year-old Christine were known to have a solid marriage and, with their two children, 13-year-old Grace and 10-year-old Jack, to be a great example of a healthy, happy family.
Steve Pinkerton owns CrossFit Vitality in Concord, North Carolina, where the family would often work out, and remembers them glowingly.
“They were the perfect family,” Pinkerton said in an interview with WNCN.com. “Everybody was happy. Everybody loved being around them.”
Christine visited the gym most often and Jess Pinkerton, Steve’s wife, says that she volunteered for the special needs CrossFit kids program.
Schools Release Statements on Deceased Siblings
Grace and Jack Gilley attended different schools in Rowan County, but they were doing equally well in their grades.
Grace was in seventh grade at Salisbury Academy and the school released this statement on her passing before holding a private vigil in her memory:
It is with deep sorrow that Salisbury Academy mourns the loss of the Gilley Family – Dave, Christine, Jack, and Grace.
Grace, a seventh-grader at Salisbury Academy, was a light-filled spirit and epitomized every aspect of true grace. She was a friend to all of her classmates, beloved by faculty, and had a tremendous heart. She was beautiful inside and out.
Words are not adequate to express the loss of Grace and family. Our prayers of sympathy, love, and support go out to all who knew and loved them.
At Bostian Elementary School, Jack was president of his fourth-grade class and was known for his love of reading and dance, as well as his kindness. The school sent a letter to parents following the crash to notify them that crisis intervention counselors would be on hand as school resumed after spring break.
Happy Memories Recounted During Celebration Service
On April 21, 2017, friends and family gathered at Omwake-Dearborn Chapel at Catawba College to honor and celebrate the Gilley family. It was a recollection of lives well-lived but ended too soon, with numerous pictures and stories that brought both laughter and tears.
Over the course of the two-hour service, attendees shared memories of the Gilleys and their contributions to the community, while mourning how early they were taken. In a small source of comfort, many shared their thankfulness that the Gilley family was not split up.
“I’m so thankful they went to heaven together,” Kristy Wheeler Scott, a friend of Christine’s, said.
Officials Say Accidents Are Common on I-77
West Virginia officials now face the task of improving the safety of their roads. Gregory Barr serves as general manager of the West Virginia Parkways Authority and admits that rollovers do happen in that section of the turnpike due to steep downhill grades.
The area where the Camp Creek truck crash occurred does have a steep downhill grade that the semi-truck driver was maneuvering. Barr, however, says that while they’ve had about six to seven rollovers in that six-mile stretch of the turnpike in the last 10 years, crossovers like they suspect the Camp Creek truck crash to have been, are much less common.
Barr says the state will now look at guardrails, median walls, and median cables to see if improvements can be made to the safety of the Turnpike, to prevent future truck crashes.