News / The Northern Virginia Daily/nvdaily.com
Fiery I-81 crash claims two Staunton residents
By Alex Bridges
The Jeep Cherokee that was involved in a three-vehicle crash in which two people were killed Friday on Interstate 81 in Frederick County turned into a "ball of fire," according to the driver of one of the cars that was hit.
Jenelle Embrey, 45, of Linden said the tractor-trailer struck the Jeep while traveling "full speed," and continued to travel forward past the 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser that she was driving before stopping.
"I can't believe we lived," Embrey said.
Heather Lee Santor, 39, and Acoye M. Breckenridge, 18, both of Staunton, died at the scene of the crash on Interstate 81 near Kernstown, according to state police spokesman Sgt. F.L. "Les" Tyler.
Trooper B.G. Davis also issued a summons for reckless driving to Lance W. Anderson, 43, of Hudson, S.D., identified as the driver of tractor-trailer that caused the fatal crash, Tyler said Saturday afternoon.
The trooper reported driver inattention contributed to the crash.
The 2007 Peterbilt tractor-trailer rear-ended the 1998 Jeep Cherokee, driven by Santor, which had stopped in traffic in the right, southbound lane of Interstate 81 south of Va. 37 at approximately 7:48 p.m., according to Tyler. The Jeep caught fire after the collision.
Santor and Breckenridge, a passenger in the Jeep, died at the scene, according to Tyler. A second passenger in the Jeep, Zackary Santor, 18, of Staunton, was taken by ambulance to Winchester Medical Center, Tyler said.
The collision also had pushed the Jeep into the rear of the Chrysler driven by Embrey, Tyler said. The force of the collision sent both the tractor-trailer and the Chrysler into the left lane. the Chrysler spun and struck the side of the tractor-trailer, according to Tyler.
Embrey recalled the experience by phone Saturday night and noted that her father, Harry Hamilton Jr., 65, a real estate agent in Kernstown, rode as a passenger in the Chrysler he bought just a few days before the crash, Embrey told the Daily she and her father drove from his home near the Va. 37 interchange and had entered the interstate only minutes before the collision sent the Chrysler spinning, striking the tractor-trailer.
Embrey said she had stopped for traffic in a construction zone, giving plenty of distance between the Chrysler and a flatbed truck in front of her vehicle.
The events which occurred after all vehicles stopped left Embrey shaking even 24 hours later. Embrey recalled seeing her father run to the Jeep and try to pull the victims from the vehicle before it caught fire.
"They were all alive," Embrey said. "They were very much alive."
Hamilton then pulled Zackary Santor from the Jeep, Embrey recalled.
"[Hamilton] just ripped the window right out of the door," she said. "He was trying to get the others out. ... and he wasn't able to cut the seat belt."
As Hamilton shouted to the occupants inside the Jeep, Embrey said she could see and hear the other teen passenger screaming, but the driver appeared barely conscious. Embrey said she then heard a popping noise coming from the Jeep and the whole thing turned into "a ball of fire."
"They burned up right there in front of us," Embrey said.
Embrey expressed amazement at her father's efforts in spite of the danger and recalled shouting to him to get away from the Jeep when the vehicle caught fire.
Neither Anderson nor Embrey reported injuries, according to Tyler. Embrey recalled her father hurt his hands from pulling out the car door window.
All people involved in the crash were wearing seat belts at the time of the incident, Tyler said. Zackary Santor's condition was not known Saturday.
Members of the state police crash reconstruction and motor carrier safety teams assisted at the scene.
The crash caused traffic to back up for miles north of the scene as police closed both southbound lanes. Fire and rescue workers responded to the crash.
Contact staff writer Alex Bridges at 540-465-5137 ext. 125, or firstname.lastname@example.org