I-70 collision in Howard kills 4 men

Pickup crosses median, slams into other truck

October 23, 2004|By William Wan | William Wan,SUN STAFF

A head-on collision on Interstate 70 killed four men yesterday in western Howard County, forcing state police to close one side of the highway during the morning rush hour and causing traffic backups that stretched about three miles.

Two pickup trucks, each with two men inside, collided about 6:40 a.m. just west of the Route 97 exit in Cooksville. The trucks - both 2004 Chevrolet Silverado pickups, one white, one maroon - were traveling in opposite directions, the white truck eastbound and the maroon westbound.

"For some unknown reason, the white truck left the eastbound lane and crossed over to the westbound lane," said Lt. Clarence Bell of the Maryland State Police. The white truck, which had been in the fast lane, swerved across a median strip and into the path of the maroon pickup, which was in the middle lane.

Only the driver of the maroon truck was wearing a seat belt, police said. All four men were pronounced dead at the scene.

Police identified the driver of the white truck as Jose M. Sanchez, 37, of New Market and his passenger as Marco A.S. Gonzalez, 23, of Frederick. The driver of the maroon truck was Charles R. Wilhelm Jr., 66, of Monkton. His passenger was James H. Gillispie, 75, of Parkton.

Wilhelm and Gillispie were driving to watch NASCAR race qualifying in Martinsville, Va., their families said. It was something the two lifelong friends had done for years.

They used to race themselves on the local dirt tracks, said Wilhelm's son-in-law, Tom Ruhl.

All of Gillispie's siblings had died in car crashes, said his daughter-in-law, Sandy Gillispie, 53. His sister died in a car accident and his brother died racing on dirt tracks.

After his brother's death, James Gillispie's mother made him promise he would quit racing. So he and Wilhelm became racing fans, attending every NASCAR race they could.

Wilhelm, a retired insurance salesman, is survived by his wife, Doris, a daughter and two grandchildren. Gillispie is survived by his wife, Bernice, two sons and one grandchild.

"I just can't believe this happened," Sandy Gillispie said. "They were good men."

The Clarksburg company that owns the white truck, Ben Lewis Plumbing Inc., declined to comment on the accident, and the families of the two workers killed could not be reached. Co-workers at the scene said Sanchez and Gonzalez were on their way to a job site.

The collision crushed the front end of both vehicles and left deep marks on the highway pavement. The driver-side door of the maroon truck was sheared off, and the impact on the white truck was so great that it smashed inward the hood and engine as well as the door and wheel on the passenger side.

The accident shut down all westbound lanes of I-70 over a three-mile stretch for 5 1/2 hours.

"It happened at the worst time - right at rush hour," said David E. Buck, spokesman for the State Highway Administration.

Traffic was backed up most of the morning, with cars detoured onto Route 144. Workers finished clearing the debris and towed away the trucks shortly before noon, when all lanes were reopened.

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