OAKWOOD – Two separate accidents a few miles apart Thursday afternoon in the westbound lanes of Interstate 74 claimed the life of a semitrailer truck driver and sent a Danville man to an area hospital with life-threatening injuries.
The first accident occurred at 2:14 p.m. in the westbound lanes at mile marker 202, two miles east of the Fithian exit.
A 2015 Peterbilt semitrailer truck driven by Isak J. Deetlefs of Imperial, Neb., had slowed for backed-up traffic due to a single-lane construction zone that was just ahead. A 2002 Chevrolet van driven by Ronald C. Schaer of Danville failed to reduce speed and rear-ended the semitrailer truck, according to Illinois State Police.
Schaer was transported to an area hospital with life-threatening injuries. Deetlefs was uninjured. Both drivers were wearing seat belts. Schaer was cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid an accident.
Schaer’s van was disabled in the right lane of traffic, causing traffic to back up for 4 miles, state police said.
A second accident occurred at 2:58 p.m. in the westbound lanes near mile marker 205, one mile west of the Oakwood exit.
A 2016 Peterbilt semitrailer truck driven by Eli I. Schwartz, 63, of Ephrata, Pa., and a 2016 Ford straight truck driven by Mark R. Dettman, 58, of Milledgeville, Ill., had slowed for the traffic backup when another semitrailer truck driven by an unknown male driver failed to reduce speed and rear-ended Schwartz’s semitrailer truck, state police said. The unknown driver’s truck became engulfed in flames.
The impact caused Schwartz’s truck to rear-end Dettman’s truck that was stopped in front of Schwartz.
The unknown male driver was pronounced dead at the scene. Schwartz and Dettman were uninjured.
Vermilion County Coroner Jane McFadden said the man's name was being withheld pending notification of next of kin. An autopsy was scheduled Friday.
The Illinois State Police, Oakwood Fire Department and Vermilion County Coroner’s office continue to investigate the accident.
The two accidents snarled traffic between Danville and St. Joseph for several hours. At one point, the eastbound lanes of Interstate 74 also were shut down due to heavy smoke from the truck fire.
Westbound traffic was diverted at the Oakwood exit onto U.S. Route 150, but for a while the eastbound off-ramp at Oakwood was closed due to traffic congestion. The eastbound off-ramp at Oakwood was reopened when the westbound lanes of I-74 reopened, which was a shortly after 1 a.m. Friday, according to state police.