The accident that claimed the lives of two state troopers, including a Portsmouth native and a Vinton woman, is now the subject of an investigation in Columbus.
“I can tell you it will be an in-depth investigation, just like all of our investigations,” said Sgt. Jon Payer, of the Ohio State Highway Patrol. “We will do a thorough job and try and determine the cause.”
The triple-fatality crash occurred on Jackson Pike at Mitchell Road in Gallia County at 5:50 a.m. on September 28. Joshua P. Risner, 29, of Jackson, and born in Portsmouth, Dale R. Holcomb, 45, of Bidwell, and Lori Smith, 32, of Vinton, were killed.
OSHP crash reconstruction experts will be joined by experts from Ford Motor Company, New York State Police, Missouri Highway Patrol, Ohio State Troopers Association and State Fire Marshal's division, in what OSHP officers say will be a, “meticulous examination of Ohio State Patrol car No. 1373, the vehicle which caught fire after the crash.”
OSHP Car No. 1373 and the Chevrolet Silverado involved in the crash, were transported to a secure facility in Columbus, and the investigation began on Monday.
“We have an investigator whose specialty is complicated automobile fires,” said Shane Cartmill, public information officer with the State Fire Marshal's office.
He said his department is part of the investigating team.
“We are basically working with all the other agencies in attempting to determine the cause of the fire,” Cartmill said.
According to the OSHP, based on physical evidence and witnesses who saw the crash scene following the collision, the fire is believed to have spread from the patrol car to the pickup truck.
Witnesses reported hearing a loud explosion following the sound of a collision.
Patrol investigators said physical evidence collected at the crash scene indicates the truck, driven by Smith, was traveling in the westbound lane of Jackson Pike, and the patrol cruiser, driven by Risner, was traveling in the eastbound lane.
According to the report filed by patrol investigators, evidence gathered so far indicates the collision occurred in the westbound lanes of Jackson Pike, just west of Mitchell Road.
The report said there was heavy front-end damage to the truck, and heavy back-end damage to the cruiser.
A resulting fire from the crash significantly burned both vehicles, the report said. Investigators determined that because of heavy rain and wet road conditions at the time of the crash, the investigation has been limited by a lack of tire marks on the road.
When firefighters arrived, they found both vehicles engulfed in flames.
“It looked like a bonfire sitting there,” said Gallipolis Fire Chief Robert Poling.
Several questions remain from the preliminary investigation. Investigators confirmed the emergency lights were activated on the cruiser at the time of the crash.
A witness confirmed hearing the cruiser's siren before the crash, but a review of taped radio traffic revealed the officers had not been dispatched to an emergency call and there was no radio communication with the post before the collision, the report said.
Risner, who graduated from Oak Hill High School in 1996 had been with the patrol for seven years. Holcomb was a 21-year veteran of the OSHP.
Preliminary results of the crash reconstruction analysis are expected to take at least 10 days.
“There will be a number of different things to consider, other than just the vehicles involved,” Payer said. “There is a lot of data that needs to be looked at, and we have confidence in our ability to determine what happened.”
FRANK LEWIS can be reached at (740) 353-3101, ext. 232.