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Witnesses, first responders react to tragic motorcycle crash on I-40

Many people at the scene 5NEWS spoke with called it the most horrific crash they have ever seen.

DYER, Arkansas — Arkansas State Police (ASP) confirmed the crash that happened Thursday, May 12, on westbound I-40 just outside of Mulberry, left three motorcyclists dead and six others injured. A wrong-way driver in a pickup truck struck the group of riders, killing three from Louisiana. Those injured were transported to area hospitals.

Those killed have been identified as:

  • Leonard Lemar, Jr. of Slidell, La. 
  • Patricia Lemar of Slidell, La.
  • Malinda Shano of Terrytown, La.

It's still unclear what caused the pickup truck to cross the grassy median of the interstate.

Witnesses and first responders have all said the same thing: the accident was one of the most horrific they’ve seen.

“This was by far the most horrific scene that I’d ever witnessed, personally,” said Jason Wade. 

Wade is an avid motorcyclist and took advantage of the warm weather to go for a ride. Little did he know, he would soon find himself approaching the deadly scene.

Wade is involved in motorsports and has experience with approaching accidents and helping those involved. Yesterday, instinct kicked in and he pulled over and jumped into action. But he was not prepared for what he found. 

"As I got over there and was trying to, you know, see what I could do to help, you kind of, you learned really quick that what just happened was really, really bad," Wade said.

Like Wade, Amanda Harden and her fiancé were heading west along I-40 headed back home to Ozark when they first saw the smoke from the other side of the interstate. Harden says she took out her phone to record what they were seeing when she saw familiar faces on the other side of the median helping.

"I started crying and then I stopped the video and called my mom to make sure they were alright," Harden said. "Mom said they were alright. The truck almost hit them, it swerved for them, my brother swerved to miss it and then it hit the motorcycles. I was very grateful that they wasn’t involved in it.”

Harden said her family was in front of the motorcycle group when the truck approached them. After the accident, they pulled over and jumped into action to help anyone they could.

Behind the group of motorcycles was Adam Walker and his girlfriend. Walker says they were only separated from the group by a few seconds and recalls at one point looking up as his girlfriend, pulled the wheel and saw a fireball engulf the truck. Walker said they are thankful to be alive.

“We just feel very lucky,” Walker said. “We try not to take anything for granted because everything could change in just a couple seconds.”

Wade and Walker were both very shaken by Thursday’s accident. At one point Wade described feeling like his body was 10 feet behind him and doesn’t remember his drive home yesterday. Today, both men are still trying to process what they saw.

However, witnesses like Harden, Wade and Walker are not the only ones struggling in the aftermath of the crash. First responders are also working through what they witnessed.

Mulberry Volunteer Fire Chief, Jeff Brown says what he saw was, “the most horrific accident I’ve ever seen.” 

Brown is a 24-year veteran of the department and doesn’t remember ever seeing anything like this. Similarly, first responders with the Crawford County Sheriff’s Department described the scene to Chief Deputy, James Mirus similarly.

"The best way the scene was described to me was one of the most horrific scenes they have ever been on," Mirus said. "We tell our officers and employees all the time that in law enforcement or public safety in general, we have to see things that the human body and brain is not designed to see, feel, process or understand."

Both Mirus and Brown say their crews are talking to each other and seeking ways to process. Brown says that other departments from around the state have reached out to offer condolences and even help supply additional chaplains to help his firefighters cope and discuss what happened. 

At the Sheriff’s Department, Mirus followed suit.

"When an incident of this magnitude or any other critical incident takes place, we remind them [officers] to talk about it amongst their coworkers and those familiar with situations such as this," Mirus said.

Arkansas State Police are still investigating why the driver of the pickup was traveling the wrong way Thursday evening.

RELATED: Wrong-way crash on I-40 near Mulberry leads to multiple motorcyclists being killed, state police identify victims

RELATED: 3 dead, including one minor, after crash in Sebastian County

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