Man who caused crash that killed 5 likely took stimulants and narcotics, trooper says

A man accused of killing five people while driving while drunk on Interstate 80 showed signs of taking a stimulant and a narcotic, a Wyoming Highway Patrol officer testified Wednesday.

Arthur Andrew Nelson, 57, showed several signs of intoxication during on-site sobriety tests, including loss of balance and an inability to correctly estimate how long 30 seconds was – he counted to 18, the soldier told the court at Nelson’s preliminary hearing.

“At one point I actually had to stop him from falling backwards,” Trooper Corey McCallister said during the Carbon County Circuit Court hearing.

At the conclusion of the hearing, the court determined that there was sufficient evidence to proceed with 11 counts of charges against Nelson. He was later charged in Carbon County District Court.

Nelson, of West Jordan, Utah, was arrested on January 22 after authorities said he sparked a multi-car crash that killed five young people near Rawlins while they were drunk and driving the wrong way . His truck struck two oncoming vehicles, and a tractor-trailer truck, pulling into the median to avoid it, collided with an oncoming Ford F-150, killing everyone inside.

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The defendant drew the soldiers’ suspicions after the crash when he said he was heading west, which was the opposite direction of his stated destination. His car pulled up with the right traffic, but he was going in the wrong direction before crashing, highway patrol say. He claimed he traveled from Utah to Tennessee.

Nelson did not agree to a blood test, but McCallister was given permission to do one anyway due to the extreme circumstances. A drug detection expert analyzed Nelson when he arrived at Carbon County Memorial Hospital. In his opinion, Nelson was intoxicated with both a stimulant and a narcotic.

Nelson admitted to having used cocaine in the past and methamphetamine a day or two before the crash, McCallister said. The results of his blood test were not yet released on Wednesday.

The police officer painted a disturbing picture of what he saw at the scene of the accident. A Mississippi truck driver who hit the Ford F-150 while trying to avoid a collision with Nelson’s oncoming truck is in a medically induced coma from her severe burns. Her internal organs, including her lungs and throat, were damaged.

Debris, broken glass, plastic, metal and auto parts covered the section of Interstate 80. The Ford F-150 was so ablaze that the officer couldn’t even tell the color of the truck.

“About three quarters of her face was almost completely burned off,” he said. “I couldn’t believe or even begin to tell how many people were in the red Ford F-150.”

Nelson’s driver’s license had also been suspended at the time of the accident because of a previous alcohol abuse conviction, Carbon County Assistant Attorney Mark Nugent said at a previous court hearing.

Nelson has been in prison on and off for over three decades. He has been caught driving with a suspended or revoked license at least four times in the past, and as recently as December, court records show. His other convictions include statutory rape, burglary, evasion of arrest and criminal identity theft.

The five young people who died have been identified as students and graduate students from Sylvan Hills High School in central Arkansas — Andrea Prime, her sister Suzy Prime, Ava Grace Luplow, Salomon Correa and Maggie Franco, Pulaski County said [Arkansas] Jessica Duff, spokeswoman for the special education district.

The five took a 1,500-mile road trip from Sherwood, Arkansas to Jackson, where they attended Jackson Hole Bible College for a week. The crash happened while they were being returned home. Nelson’s Dodge Ram collided with a car and a FedEx truck. A tractor-trailer attempted to avoid Nelson by driving into the media. It got into the eastbound lanes, where it collided head-on with a Ford F-150 transporting the Arkansas youth.

Three people suffered non-life-threatening injuries in the chain reaction wreckage, and a Mississippi woman had to be flown from Rawlins to Colorado for treatment of severe third-degree burns to her face, neck, back and torso. She was trapped in the trailer truck when it caught fire.

Nelson faces 11 charges, the most serious of which are five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide; Each carries a 20-year prison sentence if found guilty.

Follow Sofia Saric on Twitter @Sofia_Saric.

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