A semi driver was seriously injured after his truck drove off the southbound lanes of Interstate 65 near Columbus, traveling down an embankment and crashing into a tree.
Steven A. Rohde, 52, Grey Eagle, Minnesota, was listed in fair condition Friday afternoon at IU Health Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis after he was airlifted there by Lifeline helicopter after the 7 a.m. Friday accident about a mile south of Columbus, said Sgt. Stephen Wheeles, Indiana State Police spokesman.
State police had characterized Rohde’s injuries as life-threatening, Wheeles said.
Police still are investigating what happened, but Wheeles said there were no skid marks indicating Rohde attempted to stop before leaving the roadway. Police are considering whether the driver may have fallen asleep or had a medical issue before the accident occurred, Wheeles said.
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Investigators don’t have a witness to what happened, he said.
An accident reconstructionist was called to the scene, Wheeles said.
Rohde was trapped in his cab for just under an hour as about a dozen Columbus firefighters used extrication equipment to free him, said Capt. Mike Wilson, Columbus Fire Department spokesman.
Firefighters used hydraulic cutting tools to take off the semi cab’s door and roof to remove the driver, and used ladders to gain access to the semi’s roof and the top of the trailer, Wilson said.
The impact was so severe that the cab of the truck was completely off the chassis and pushed into the trailer, Wilson said.
The firefighters also used a rope system to bring the driver up the steep embankment to the ambulance, Wilson said.
The semi trailer, which had rolled on its side in a muddy ditch, contained about 43,000 pounds of french fries, police said.
The driver was initially taken by ambulance to the Menards parking lot in Columbus, and then transported by Lifeline helicopter to Methodist, said Lt. Matt Harris, Columbus Police spokesman.
The parking lot was chosen as the helicopter landing site for safety reasons because of the large amount of traffic on I-65, Wilson said.
Indiana State Police kept the passing lane in the I-65 southbound lanes open, but traffic slowed to a crawl from the rest park exits north of Columbus to just past the accident location for most of Friday morning. Police initially estimated that the interstate could be restricted to one lane for up to six hours as police and firefighters worked at the scene and the semi and cargo were removed from the ditch.
Police finished with removing the french fries from the truck at about 11:45 a.m. Friday and the wrecker began working to move the semi out of the ditch. A wrecker removed the semi from the ditch by about 1:30 p.m. and both southbound lanes were reopened, Indiana State Police said.
State highway workers placed accident-ahead warning signs about slowed or stopped traffic along I-65 north of the Columbus interchange as the accident cleanup continued. No other accidents were reported as a result of the slowed traffic, Wheeles said, although state police troopers said there were some close calls.