A Carrollton man died Thursday, a day after his van rammed into the back of a southbound 18-wheeler on U.S. 287 just north of Decatur.
Both vehicles were southbound late Wednesday morning when the white van driven by Austin J. Tolnay, 24, crashed into the back of the 18-wheeler driven by Glenn Brantley.
Tolnay was flown from the scene to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. He died in the operating room the following night from complications of blunt trauma to the abdomen, according to Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office.
“Both vehicles were southbound and driving in the right-hand lane when, for some reason, the van ran underneath the back of the truck,” said Department of Public Safety state trooper Greg Reyero.
Witnesses saw the 18-wheeler dragging the van more than a quarter-mile down the highway before it stopped.
“I was at the top of the hill, and I saw the truck slowing down,” said Scott Jacobson, who was driving on U.S. 287 at the time. “He was pulling the van with it. Debris from the van was flying all over the road. I stopped and called 911 and ran over to check on the driver.”
The front of the van was lodged beneath the truck. Tolnay was seriously injured, but he was alert and moving and pulling himself from the wreckage, according to witnesses, who were urging him to keep still until medics arrived. Tolnay told witnesses that he’d been up driving since 3 or 4 a.m., which is what might have caused the accident.
“I was coming up the hill when all of a sudden there was a hell of a jolt,” Brantley said. “I looked in my driver’s side rear mirror and didn’t see anything. Then I looked at the other side and said ‘my goodness!’”
The back of Tolnay’s van was filled with crates containing pet rodents and white Styrofoam boxes containing various types of live aquarium fish wrapped tight in plastic bags filled with water. The force of the collision sent fish and rodents flying all over the back of the van.
“I didn’t even want to look in the van because you never know what you’re going to see,” said Jacobson. “I never expected to see gerbils and fish.”
State troopers gathered up the bags of fish one at a time and handed them to Decatur firefighters, who safely stored them back in the damaged Styrofoam coolers. Wise County animal control officers arrived to carry the startled creatures to the safety of the Wise County Animal Shelter in Decatur. None of the animals appeared to be injured.
Traffic backed up for miles in the southbound lanes as emergency responders treated the patient before loading him into a Lifeteam helicopter that landed in the middle of the road.