The truck driver charged in a triple fatality on the interstate does not remember what happened between the time he put down his coffee mug and a few moments later when people pounded on his truck door, demanding a fire extinguisher, according to court records.
Boone Superior Court 2 Judge Bruce Petit found probable cause last week to charge the man with three counts of reckless homicide, level 5 felonies.
Matthew L. Small, 34, of West Grandville, Mich., was talking to his wife on his cell phone via a headset and drinking coffee when his truck plowed into stopped traffic on Interstate 65 North at the Zionsville exit at about 11 a.m. Jan. 5, Boone County Sheriff’s Cpt. Mike Beard wrote in a probable cause affidavit.
Small told an officer at Witham Health Services Anson he’d been on the road about an hour, according to court records. He was hauling paper from West Virginian to Minnesota in a 2019 Freightliner semi-tractor with a total weight of about 75,000, Beard reported.
Small told police he was northbound on I-65 with clear lanes around him when he put his coffee mug into its holder, but then suddenly saw a line of traffic ahead of him and could not stop because of the heavy load he was hauling, Beard reported.
“The next thing he remembers are people beating on his door and asking for his fire extinguisher,” and telling him to get out of his truck.
Small was aware that he must stop quickly but did not recall striking other vehicles and said everything happened so quickly it was all a blur, Beard reported.
His truck stopped with a car pinned between it and a guardrail, and fire consumed the car and truck, police reported.
That car’s driver, Kaylee Kirk, 19, and passengers Mariah Tomey, 21, and Tomey’s 1-year-old daughter, Hadley Tomey, all of Lebanon, perished, according to the affidavit.
Autopsies revealed Kirk and both Tomeys suffered blunt force trauma and that both Tomeys died of neck and spinal injuries, while Kirk died of smoke inhalation, according to the affidavit.
The crash involved nine vehicles in all, and 14 people were reported injured.
Small was uninjured but checked at Witham Anson and submitted to chemical testing. Complete results are pending, but neither drugs nor alcohol are suspected to have been a factor in the crash, Boone County Sheriff’s Sgt. Chris Burcham said.
Boone County Sheriff Mike Nielsen, in a prepared statement, attributed the crash to driver inattention on Small’s part.
Some of Neilsen’s staff were already in the area that morning, directing traffic at the busy exit, and they reached the accident quickly. One deputy witnessed it, according to court records.
The Boone County Fatal Alcohol Crash Team determined Small did not hit the brakes on his truck before the crash, according to the affidavit.
The team closed the interstate for several hours to take measurements and collect evidence for a complete reconstruction report that is pending.
Driver Jason O’Neil of Indianapolis had two passengers and was stopped in traffic when he saw the semitrailer coming and pumped on his brakes repeatedly to get his attention, Beard reported. O’Neil then switched lanes to get out of harm’s way, but the truck “clipped” his bumper, Beard reported.
Video footage from a nearby business showed O’Neal stopped for three to 15 seconds as he tried to avoid collision, according to the affidavit.
Small denied media requests for an interview but released a note through the Boone County Sheriff’s Office Jan. 6. In it, he said: “My heart and prayers are with the families. I am in agony over this whole ordeal.”
“First and foremost our thoughts and prayers are with the Tomey and Kirk families as they cope with this tragedy,” Boone County Prosecutor Kent Eastwood said in a statement Jan. 7. “From a legal standpoint, this matter is still under investigation and we will be working closely with the Boone County Sheriff’s Office and the other responding agencies to ensure that a thorough investigation is completed.
“Once the investigation is final, this office will review the evidence to determine what, if any, additional action should be taken,” Eastwood added. “Given the status of the investigation and that this matter is now pending in a criminal court, there will be no further comment from the Boone County Prosecutor’s Office.”
Funeral services for the Tomeys were Saturday in Lebanon. come-as-you-are visitation is scheduled for 2-4 p.m. Thursday, with a celebration of life beginning at 4 p.m. Thursday in Traders Point Christian Church Northwest, 6590 S. Indianapolis Road, Whitestown.