[MARCH 29, 2006]
Inquests into two deaths that resulted from a
two-truck, one-car accident on Route 121 were conducted Monday at
the Logan County Safety Complex. The victims were the driver of the
car, John McWhirter, 53, of Decatur and
Ron Creighton, 43, of Rochester, the
driver of the coal truck that followed the car.
On Feb. 13 at approximately 1:49 p.m. Franchie L.
Ellis, 49, of St. Louis, Mo., was traveling northbound on Route 121,
driving an empty white 2004 Freightliner with box trailer for J.B.
Hunt Transport. He was about four blocks south of County Road 1200
North (Chestervale Road), heading toward Lincoln.
driving a 2005 Toyota Avalon, and Creighton, driving 2004 Western
Star truck-tractor pulling a dump trailer loaded with coal, were
How it all
According to Illinois State Police accident reconstructionist
Rick Price, Ellis lost control of his truck and it began
jackknifing. It first struck the McWhirter car about 16 inches
beyond the front bumper and continued to sideswipe the vehicle
increasingly the entire length of the Toyota.
The McWhirter vehicle landed in the west ditch after the impact
from the truck.
' truck continued its sideward
movement, crossing the highway in front of a fully loaded coal truck
driven by Creighton. Ellis' cab was nearly
off the west side of the road when Creighton, who could not avoid
the truck, collided head-on with the trailer portion of Ellis'
' trailer detached and reversed
its movement backward with the impact from Creighton's truck.
Creighton's cab was entangled with the hook-up area in back of
Ellis' cab and tipped face downward.
Trooper Price said that evidence he collected indicated that all
contact between vehicles occurred in the southbound lane.
Weather conditions a defining factor
A significant snow that had previously fallen was blowing across
the road at this site. There were numerous patchy areas of snow
covering the highway between Mount Pulaski and Lincoln, and drifting
had begun in some areas.
Price said that there was about 1 inch snow over the entire
two-tenths mile, with possible ice beneath where the incident
occurred. Winds had picked up and were 10 to 12 mph, gusting to 24
According to the National Weather Service, temperatures were 33
to 34 degrees, just at the point that the pavement could have warmed
enough to cause melting and rapid refreezing, coroner Bob Thomas
Trucks equipped with recording devices
Price said that the electronic recording devices were recovered
from both the trucks. Ellis' recorder indicated that he was
traveling at 61.5 mph one minute before the crash. No brakes were
applied. His indicated speed had dropped to 54 mph seven seconds
before the crash, but that may not be an accurate reflection of the
true speed, as the truck was already jackknifed and the wheels would
not have been moving, Price said.
Creighton's recorder showed that he hadn't exceeded 39 mph; his
speed varied, usually slower; and he even dropped to near zero once
in the minutes before the impact. It is not known why, but it is
speculated that he was keeping clear of the car ahead of him. Eleven
seconds before impact he was traveling at 10 mph and braking. The
record showed him slowing 6, 5, 4, 3 mph at impact, Price said.
After the incident
McWhirter was taken to Abraham Lincoln Hospital by
ambulance. En route, paramedics employed life-saving measures that
were continued at the emergency room.
His wife, Sandra, who was a passenger, was taken
there also. She had superficial injuries. Both had been wearing seat
Dr. E. Redding pronounced John McWhirter dead at
Deputy coroner Warren Rogers examined McWhirter.
Rogers said that the autopsy results were consistent with what he
witnessed. McWhirter had skull and rib fractures, and a laceration
in the rib area.
Toxicology results indicated no alcohol or drugs in
McWhirter's system other than an angina medication, cardiazem.
The coroner pronounced Creighton dead at the scene.
Inquest decisions of the jury
The inquest jury of six men and women agreed that
McWhirter's death was the result of blunt-force injury to the head
due to a motor vehicle incident. They also determined that his death
death was ruled accidental but avoidable.
driver of the truck that jackknifed, was also treated and released
at ALMH. While there he was tested for drugs, and it came back
positive for cocaine.
The Logan County states attorney
office is handling the investigation. Price said he anticipates that
charges will be filed against Ellis.
Ellis had been driving for J.B. Hunt one month. He
was on a drive going from St. Louis to Decatur. It was unknown why
he was driving in the opposite direction of his destination.