MIDLAND COUNTY A four-vehicle accident just east of FM 1788 on Interstate 20 Thursday afternoon left four people dead, caught two 18-wheelers on fire and closed the interstate’s eastbound and westbound lanes for hours.
Sgt. Travis McRee of the Department of Public Safety in Midland said the accident occurred at around 3 p.m., but said it was too early to tell how the accident occurred. McRee said he didn’t know the identities of any of the dead at that time.
Assistant Fire Marshal David Hickman of the Midland Fire Department said the driver and a passenger died in one of the 18-wheelers, the driver died in another 18-wheeler, and the driver of the GMC 4500 towing a cattle trailer died. He said there were no other injuries.
Chuck Griffith, owner of Lufkin Ranch and Rodeo, said the deceased driver of a GMC 4500 towing a cattle trailer was General Manager David Wisener, a 50-year-old man from Lufkin.
Griffith said Thursday evening what had been relayed to him from on-scene Department of Public Safety troopers was that a tractor-trailer eastbound on I-20 left the roadway, crossed the median and collided head-on with another tractor-trailer traveling west that was just ahead of Wisener’s vehicle. The Midland Reporter-Telegram had a similar description of the accident earlier in the day, as well as that Wisener’s truck then drove through the fiery debris and crossed the median before finally crashing near the service road on the eastbound lane.
A pickup driven by the accident’s sole-survivor, Rachel Todorovich of El Paso was able to slow before slamming into boxes of produce and one of the tractor-trailers, the Reporter-Telegram reported.
“The woman (Todorovich) was pretty shaken up, but no one was transported,” Hickman said. “This was a tragic series of events.”
Smoke from the accident rose into the air thick enough to be seen from downtown Odessa and continued to billow up in large quantities for around 20 minutes until crews extinguished the flames.
Hickman said the first call was made at 2:55 p.m., that crews responded at 3:02 p.m. and that the fires had been put out soon after their arrival.
Hickman said one of the 18-wheelers had produce as its cargo and the other had a cargo of medical drinks such as Pedialyte, Ensure and saline bottles. Hickman said the pickup that wasn’t towing the cattle trailer slid on produce and into the other vehicles that had collided, but he said he did not know how those vehicles collided.
Hickman said there were fewer than 10 bulls in the cattle trailer, and that none died, though some were injured. Griffith said Wisener had been taking the set of bucking bulls on a trip from Lufkin to a professional rodeo in Phoenix. Griffith said Wisener had loved his job, where he’d worked 12 years, and he was survived by two adult children. The identities of the other three involved were not available as of press time.
Rachelle Arzadon, an after-market-services administrator for Exterran, 9704 W. Interstate 20, said she went outside to see what had made a loud booming sound and saw the accident around 100 yards away.
“At first, I thought it was in our shop, but my co-workers started going outside. I saw a semi that was closest to us on fire… and just debris on the ground because the smoke was really thick,” Arzadon said. “I kept hearing a lot of popping, though. I was shaking the whole time.”
Hickman said the popping was coming from aerosol cans bursting in dumpsters that were close to one of the burning 18-wheelers.
Hickman said large amounts of diesel had spilled onto the roadways, which caused crews to use foam to extinguish the fire.
“We found a transmission way far away from where the accident happened. Imagine the inertia created from a collision at 75 miles per hour,” Hickman said.