Trucker was under influence of marijuana in fatal Toll Road crash, officials say

A crash on the Indiana Toll Road killed two people on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.
A crash on the Indiana Toll Road killed two people on Wednesday, June 1, 2022.

SOUTH BEND — A “horrific” crash in June when a semitrailer plowed into a line of slowing and stopped cars on the Indiana Toll Road has now resulted in criminal charges against the driver of the truck.

New York native Chasen Thompson, 27, is charged with seven felonies of causing death or serious injury while under the influence of marijuana in connection to the crash, which killed 45-year-old Eric Klein and 82-year-old Jacqueline Luczak.

Five other motorists were hospitalized in the crash that took place in the eastbound lanes of I-80 when construction caused traffic to slow to a crawl. According to court documents and witness accounts, Thompson’s truck didn’t appear to slow down as it ran into a series of five barely moving cars in front of it, causing cars to run off the road and into the median or into the westbound lanes.

"The cars were stopped and the truck was still going highway speeds and ran into the cars, ran through the cars. It’s really upsetting," Tire Rack employee Zach Stewart told The Tribune in June. Stewart saw the crash unfold as he looked out of his office window.

Thompson was arrested right after the incident but was released after a hearing in late July. He was later charged in September with seven counts, one for each person hurt or killed, of causing injury or death while operating a motor vehicle with a controlled substance.

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Charging documents state Thompson told responding officers he was reaching down to adjust the radio and when he looked up, he hit the other cars. Thompson agreed to a blood draw, documents say, which the Indiana Department of Toxicology lab eventually found he was positive for THC.

A spokesman for the St. Joseph County Prosecutor’s Office said the delay in filing formal charges was due to investigators waiting for the toxicology and other reports to be returned.

Thompson was in St. Joseph County for a hearing last week after superior court judge Elizabeth Hurley denied his petition to attend the hearing virtually. Hurley has since allowed Thompson to remain in New York while the case makes its way through court and set a trial date in March.

Because the crash occurred on the toll road, emergency crews had some difficulty making it to the scene; however, a trio of South Bend police officers who had been training at the Tire Rack center witnessed the crash and were able to quickly rush on scene.

The officers — Corey Lueth, Brandon Schmidt and Jeff Diggins — helped those injured and tried to calm affected motorists, South Bend Police Chief Scott Ruszkowski said. Lueth also used a fire extinguisher to put out flames that had sprung from one of the vehicles involved.

“They did their due diligence and duty the best they could waiting for help to arrive,” Ruszkowski said. “That was no easy access for fire department and medics to get to that location. And then still having to contend with vehicles coming in the opposite direction made it a little bit worse.  How they did that, I don’t know. I think it’s beyond commendable.”

The officers were awarded a commendation by the Board of Public Safety in August.

In addition to the criminal charges Thompson faces, he is also named as a defendant in a recently-filed lawsuit brought by Dolores Kallas, a motorist who was involved in the crash. Court documents say Kallas suffered a broken pelvis.

“Thompson failed to keep a proper lookout, failed to maintain a safe speed, failed to slow his vehicle and negligently drove into the back of several vehicles … causing a violent collision,” the complaint says.

The trucking company Thompson was driving for, Hilton-Spencerfort Express, is also named as a defendant.

Email Marek Mazurek at Follow him on Twitter: @marek_mazurek

This article originally appeared on South Bend Tribune: Indiana Toll Road crash: Driver was under the influence, officials say