MIAMI, Okla. – The Oklahoma Highway Patrol says a ninth fatality in a northeast Oklahoma turnpike wreck has been confirmed after crews found another body in a car that had been caught under a tractor-trailer.
Patrol Lt. George Brown said a ninth victim was found hours later when tow trucks were finally able to lift the truck from atop a car that had been crushed underneath.
The accident occurred when a tractor-trailer slammed into a line of cars stopped on a northeast Oklahoma turnpike in a series of accidents that left twisted metal and debris strewn about the highway and stranded miles of traffic in scorching heat for hours.
Emergency crews worked well into the evening to untangle the wreckage and determine whether there were additional victims.
Oklahoma Highway Patrol Lt. George Brown said traffic was stopped about 1 p.m. on the Will Rogers Turnpike northeast of Miami because of an earlier crash when the big rig slammed into at least three cars, which then crashed into more vehicles.
"It looks like a war zone," he said. "There's mangled metal everywhere. There's debris, fluids, dead bodies."
Brown feared rescue crews might find more bodies as they worked to get to an automobile pinned under the semitrailer. Two of the dead were in that car, but troopers were not sure Friday evening whether more victims were in the vehicle.
The wreckage was on a steep embankment and two tow trucks had to work slowly to lift the truck up and off the car, Brown said.
Investigators don't believe the driver of the tractor-trailer tried to stop before the crash, Brown said. The speed limit in the area is 75 mph.
Jericho Malphrus, 17, was driving with his mom to his hometown of Orient, Ohio, after touring a Bible college in Broken Arrow. He said he saw a young girl being removed from wreckage that contained the bodies of two adults in the front seat.
"Mainly what struck me was the amount of debris everywhere," Malphrus said. "There were clothes and snacks and debris. Someone's suitcase had busted open and a little girl's clothes were everywhere."
His mother, Jodi Malphrus, said the accident happened about 30 car lengths in front of her on the turnpike.
"It was like somebody had dropped a bomb," she said. "It was horrific."
She said the first vehicle the truck hit was an SUV, which was so mangled it could barely be identified as a vehicle.
Brown said the truck driver was taken to an area hospital, as was a 12-year-old girl who was pinned for a time in a wrecked vehicle before emergency workers could free her. He did not know their medical conditions.
Heather Collier, a spokeswoman for Freeman Hospital in Joplin, Mo., said her hospital saw eight patients from the accident, but she said she could not disclose their medical conditions.
The turnpike's eastbound lanes were closed for hours after the accident, which occurred near the border with Missouri and Kansas. Stalled traffic baked in 100-degree weather and emergency crews delivered water to some stranded motorists.
Some got out of their vehicles and walked along the highway shoulder while they waited. Workers from a nearby casino brought bottled water, and emergency officials brought a tanker truck to spray people.
Shortly after 5 p.m., one eastbound lane was opened and traffic slowly began to move.