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Truck driver arrested in multi-vehicle freeway crash that killed seven in Oregon

Police say Lincoln Clayton Smith was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving, manslaughter and assault

A damaged vehicle sits on the side of the road on Interstate 5, Northbound on Thursday, May 18, 2023, in Marion County, Oregon
A damaged vehicle sits on the side of the road on Interstate 5, Northbound on Thursday, May 18, 2023, in Marion County, Ore.Abigail Dollins (AP)

The driver of a semitruck that slammed into a passenger van on Interstate 5 in western Oregon, killing seven people in one of the state’s deadliest crashes in recent years, was arrested Friday on suspicion of manslaughter, DUI and other charges, police said.

Eleven people were in the van when it was struck, authorities said. Six people died at the scene, one more died after being airlifted to a hospital and four were injured, according to Oregon State Police.

State police said the names of the victims would not be made public until their families have been notified. Authorities have not released information about the condition of the four injured passengers.

Lincoln Clayton Smith, 52, of North Highlands, California, was arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence of intoxicants, reckless driving, manslaughter and assault, police said.

Smith was arraigned in the afternoon and was being held without bail in Marion County Jail. It wasn’t clear whether his case had been assigned to the state public defender’s office or a specific attorney. The office didn’t immediately respond to a message asking about that, and a lawyer whose name appears in court documents said she had not formally been assigned the case and could not comment.

At the arraignment, a district attorney said Smith refused a field sobriety test and was unable to focus and answer basic questions, the Salem Statesman Journal reported. The prosecutor also said Smith acknowledged taking “speed” the day before the crash and was in possession of methamphetamine, according to the paper.

The husband of one of the dead passengers said their 1-year-old son had asked for his mother on Friday.

“My future is destroyed,” he was quoted as saying, through an interpreter, by the Statesman Journal, which published a photo of victims’ relatives and friends outside the Marion County Court annex after the arraignment.

Two semitrucks and the van were involved in the Thursday afternoon crash near Albany, in an agricultural area in the Willamette Valley.

The truck driven by the suspect left the northbound lanes of I-5 and hit the van as it was parked on the roadside, according to police. The van was then pushed into the back of another truck parked in front of it.

Witnesses said the first truck had been weaving on and off the road and hit the van without braking first, according to comments by the DA as reported by the Statesman Journal.

The northbound lanes of I-5 were closed for hours as experts investigated but reopened Thursday night, state transportation officials said.

Bodies were seen covered in plastic in a nearby field after the crash, the Albany Democrat-Herald reported. Police and fire officials put a blue tarp on the wrecked van and placed a barrier near one of the trucks to block the view of the scene, according to the news outlet.

Life Flight Network confirmed that one of its emergency medical helicopters transported one patient to a Salem-area hospital.

Witness Adrian Gonzalez told the Statesman Journal the van was mangled by the force of the impact.

“Judging by the damage, it looked like the van was sandwiched,” he said. “It got hit very hard.”

The crash is one of the deadliest in Oregon in recent years.

A head-on collision on a remote road in Harney County in eastern Oregon in August 2018 killed a family of seven, including five young children. Eight people died in total.

In December 2012, nine people died after a tour bus careened on an icy Interstate 84 and crashed through a guardrail, plunging several hundred feet down a steep embankment. The bus was carrying about 40 people when the accident occurred in an area near Pendleton called Deadman Pass.

Another crash in 1988, also near Albany on I-5, killed 7 people and injured 37 more. Two infants were among those killed in the fiery 23-vehicle pileup.

Albany lies between Salem and Eugene and is about 70 miles (113 kilometers) south of Portland. I-5 is the main north-south interstate highway on the West Coast.

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