FRANKLIN COUNTY -- Authorities have released the names of the five victims of an automobile crash that closed Interstate 57 for several hours on Thursday.
According to a state police news release, preliminary investigative details indicate that a Freightliner truck was on the right side of Interstate 57 northbound at milepost 65 in Franklin County, when a 2019 blue Ford Expedition read-ended it.
The ISP identified the driver of the truck as Dawit Tekeste Gebermichael, age 38, of Houston, Texas. He was uninjured.
The victims in the Expedition were all from Memphis, Tennessee. The driver has been identified as Magnolia G. Armstrong, 80. Her passengers were Corleen A. Luellen, 79, Peggy Jackson Armstrong, 75, Helen Elizabeth Armstrong, 79, Harold Edward Armstrong, 76, and Andrea E. Lesure, 59.
Lesure was the sole survivor in that vehicle.
According to reporter Phillip Jackson of The Commercial Appeal in Memphis, the victims were family members traveling to a wedding to take place this weekend.
"It affected pretty much everyone in the family," said Andre Lesure. "Basically coping with it and staying strong at the moment. Of course we are grieving and tremendously hurt."
Lesure is the son of Andrea Lesure, the sole survivor of the accident.
It is unknown how fast either vehicle was traveling or why the accident occurred.
Jason Chapman of Christopher was traveling southbound on I-57 near the Mt. Vernon exit en route to Carterville when he saw lights.
"I took my phone out to show why I didn't make a route, if needed," said Chapman, who works for Rotech of Mt. Vernon, a durable medical equipment company.
Chapman took a video but said he chose not to post the video due to the graphic nature.
"There was a white sheet lying in the middle of the highway," said Chapman, adding he assumed it was covering a victim.
He said the sheet was about 200 feet from the vehicles.
"I just did not feel it was something that should be posted," he said.
Chapman said he observed law enforcement officers speaking to a man near the Freightliner who he assumed was the driver of the truck.
"There was debris everywhere," he said, describing the scene. "I'm 29 and I drive a lot and cover a big area. I've never seen anything like this."
The accident occurred at 1:52 p.m. Authorities closed Interstate 57 from Marion to West Frankfort for four-and-a-half hours.
Chapman said he was near the scene just 15 minutes or so after the crash occurred.
He also noted that secondary roads were jammed with diverted traffic from Christopher all the way to Herrin, on Route 148.
Marion Republican editor, John Homan, noted the same traffic as he traveled from Du Quoin to Herrin on Route 148 around 5 p.m.
"It was a huge line of traffic, mostly trucks, all the way from Zeigler to Herrin," he said.
The accident remains under investigation.