SCIPIO — A Butlerville man was killed and a North Vernon woman injured in a fiery head-on crash Tuesday afternoon in northwest Jennings County. A total of four vehicles became involved in the wreckage that closed both lanes of State Road 7 for several hours.
Charles Welch, 57, died instantly of massive injuries during the 3:30 p.m collision, about a mile north of Scipio, according to the Jennings County Sheriff’s Department.
According to reports, Welch was southbound in a Toyota Corolla when, for some reason, his vehicle went left of the center line. His car then crashed head-on into a northbound semitrailer carrying a load of coiled steel.
“While some witnesses say (Welch) was trying to pass another car, there’s no proof of that at this time,” said Deputy A.J. Maberry of the Jennings County Sheriff’s Department. “However, we haven’t ruled that possibility out.”
After the collision, the semi lost several parts on the highway and began veering west. As it went off the highway, the engine and cab caught fire. The truck driver, 48-year-old Daniel Gruner of Trafalgar, was able to escape the cab before it became totally engulfed in flames. He was alert and walking when emergency crews arrived at the scene. The truck came to rest against several trees that were burned by the fire-engulfed cab, according to reports.
The truck, owned by West Container of Columbus, was carrying more than 500 gallons of gasoline when it caught fire. Maberry said that was one reason why traffic was rerouted for several hours along Jennings County Road 800 North, near Leonard’s Tire Shop, to Road 600 North near Scipio. Other reasons included difficulty in removing the semi, as well as the investigation itself.
Welch’s car veered off into a ditch on the west side of the highway. The impact of the crash was strong enough to send his car’s engine flying about 30 feet up a steep wooded hillside, according to officials.
After the initial collision, a southbound Chrysler Sebring, driven by Vickie Girt, 59, of North Vernon, attempted to stop. However, Girt was unable to avoid side-swiping the backside of the trailer. Officials said a few of the steel coils, which were en route from North Vernon to A-K Steel in the Walesboro area, fell onto Girt’s car. She was taken to St. Vincent Jennings Hospital after complaining of chest and back injuries. Maberry said he expected her to be treated and released from the hospital.
The fourth car, driven by Gary Harris, of North Vernon, traveled southbound past the other three vehicles, but his Oldsmobile Cutlass was damaged by large pieces of debris strewn across the highway, according to reports. Harris, 63, was not injured.
The accident remains under investigation by the Jennings County Sheriff’s Department with the assistance of the Indiana State Police. Geneva Township volunteer firefighters were responsible for extinguishing the flames in the cab and trees.