Two truck drivers killed in I-81 crash

A Thursday evening crash involving four vehicles on Interstate 81 led to the deaths of two men driving tractor trailers, one of whom was from Woodstock.

A 2014 Freightliner tractor trailer was driving northbound on I-81 at around 3:52 p.m. Thursday at the 319 mile marker in Stephenson when a “mechanical problem” caused the driver, Alfred Frank Atchison, 67, of Nipomo, California, to lose control of the truck, Virginia State Police said in a statement. Atchison sideswiped a 2004 Ford Mustang, which was also traveling northbound, before his trailer ran off the roadway through the median and into the southbound lanes.

There, according to the statement, Atchison collided head-on with a 2006 Peterbuilt tractor trailer in the southbound lane, causing both tractor trailers to catch fire. Richard Allen Wagner, 61, of Woodstock, was the driver of the Peterbuilt. Atchison was pronounced dead at the scene from injuries sustained in the crash, and Wagner was transported to Winchester Medical Center where he died at 5:10 p.m., also from injuries sustained in the crash.

Another tractor trailer, a 2005 Volvo traveling southbound on I-81, sideswiped the Freightliner while trying to avoid the crash and then jackknifed off of the right side of the roadway. Neither the Volvo driver, James Lee Dull, 53, of Fort Defiance, nor the Ford driver, James Donald Stemple,  70, of Martinsburg, West Virginia, sustained any injuries requiring treatment from the crashes.

State police Sgt. F.L. (Les) Tyler said authorities believe one of Atchison’s tires blew out and caused him to lose control of the tractor trailer, but the exact cause of the fatal crash is still under investigation by Trooper M. M. Kilmer.

All lanes of I-81 were closed for hours until the right northbound lane was opened at 6:15 p.m., and the right southbound lane was opened at 8:07 p.m; It took until 12:48 a.m. Friday before all lanes on I-81 were open.

Area residents have criticized the Virginia Department of Transportation and government officials in past years about safety issues on I-81, which has historically been the scene of a number of fatal crashes.