Investigators seek answers in deadly 35-vehicle crash

December 20, 2012 12:28:55 PM PST
Authorities are trying to determine what caused a deadly 35-vehicle accident on the Long Island Expressway that shut down the highway in both directions for more than 15 hours.

Crews worked through the night to try to clean up what was left of the 35 vehicles involved in the accident, which happened just before 3 p.m. on an eastbound lane at exit 68 near Upton in Suffolk County.

The fiery crash killed one and injured more than two dozen people.

Police say Raymond Simoneau, 42, of Rockingham, Vermont, was driving a tractor-trailer eastbound on the LIE when his vehicle struck a number of cars.

The initial collision led to several chain-reaction crashes involving 33 other vehicles.

The tractor-trailer, which was carrying storm debris, and two additional vehicles caught fire and were extinguished by fire department personnel.

A car involved in the initial collision with the tractor-trailer was incinerated beyond recognition, with its tires punctured and paint burned off its body. Some SUVs and cars suffered extensive damage while others appeared to have barely a scratch; all were haphazardly stopped across the highway, which is up to six lanes in parts.

A Blue Point woman, identified as 68-year-old Christa Zepf, was driving a Toyota Camry eastbound on the LIE when her vehicle was involved in the crash. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

"She was a beautiful woman," Sal Esposito said.

That's how neighbors are describing the only person who died in the massive car pile-up on the LIE on Wednesday afternoon.

"She was a very quiet person but big heart," Esposito said.

Approximately 33 people were injured and were transported to area hospitals, including Peconic Bay Medical Center in Riverhead, Brookhaven Memorial Hospital in East Patchogue, Stony Brook University Hospital and St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson.

One of those injured, 57-year-old Robert Murphy, remains hospitalized in critical condition with a head injury.

The LIE was closed eastbound at exit 66 and westbound at exit 69. All lanes reopened just before 6 a.m.

Investigators are still trying to figure out why the accident happened. The State Department of Transportation confirmed to Eyewitness News that there was construction going on in the area that required drivers to go from three lanes down to one but it was 3/4 of a mile away from where the first accident happened.

They say there were nine posted construction signs prior to the work zone, including this electronic sign just before of exit 68.

A DOT spokesman said in a statement to Eyewitness News, "A NYSDOT construction engineer had inspected the work zone Wednesday morning and assured that all signs were properly located and posted in accordance with federal guidelines."

"Anybody rolling up on this scene you would think there would be definitely more than just one fatality," said John Mirando, chief of the Ridge Fire Department. "It's just lucky that it's only one, but it could have been a lot worse."


Get Eyewitness News Delivered

Facebook | Twitter | Newsletters | Text Alerts