Five people, including a mother and her two young sons, are dead after a semi-truck started a fiery chain-reaction crash on Interstate 65 in Indiana, officials said.
Just before midnight Thursday, 34-year-old Ruslan Pankiv of Lake Zurich was behind the wheel of a semi heading southbound approaching mile marker 178 near Layfette, as traffic in a construction zone began to back up in front of him.
Although Pankiv tried to slow his massive truck, carrying a tanker full of cooking oil, officers at the scene said the semi was going too fast to stop in time. The semi rammed into the vehicle in front of him setting off a chain-reaction multi-vehicle crash.
“He started knocking vehicles out of the way when he was coming in and then he plowed into [another] semi,” Indiana State Police Sergeant Kim Riley said.
The first car the semi hit, a 2009 Toyota Yaris driven by Mikhail Yuyrevich Stepanov, was pushed off the interstate and into a ditch. Stepanov, 41, of Lafayette, was killed by the crash and a passenger, Tatiana Yuryevna Stepanova, 31, was injured.
Police said the semi then continued south and ran into the rear of a Honda Pilot, spinning it into the median. The semi continued and hit the rear of a trailer loaded with frozen chicken wings.
The semi then caught fire and the flames spread to the Honda pilot, killing a 47-year-old Greenwood, Indiana woman identified as Jill Buck and her two young sons: 8-year-old A.J. and 10-year-old Branson.
Buck was a wife and mother of five children. She is survived by her husband Paul, son P.J., and two daughters Grace and Olivia.
The Buck family released the following statement Friday on their tragic loss:
“We ask for your prayers through this process. We remain faithful in God and it is very, very difficult time and are thankful to the many family, friends and community members who continue to show their support. We ask for privacy as we grieve together.”
Buck worked as an optometrist at South Grove Eye Care in Greenwood.
“She was greatly admired and loved by all of her co-workers and patients,” the practice said in a statement. “Our hearts ache for her family and friends. Words cannot express the pain and loss all those who knew her well feel.”
The driver of the semi, Pankiv Ruslan, was also killed in the crash.
Pankiv's wife told NBC Chicago the Ukrainian couple had been married 12 years, 10 of which were spent here in the United States raising their children, ages 5 and 9.
Three other vehicles were hit in the crash but received minimal damage, according to police.