Lost tandem wheels result in fatal truck wreck

Police are remaining tight-lipped about the reported tandem wheels laying in the middle of the eastbound lanes of Interstate 70 near Odessa, MO, that may have caused a three-semi, three-fatality accident Dec. 30.

According to police at the scene, a flatbed hauling bales of hay was headed east on I-70 at 5:50 a.m. when it crossed the median and into westbound traffic. The flatbed (driven by Gerard Kleinschmit of Kleinschmit Brothers Trucking) had reportedly attempted to dodge a pair of tandem wheels that had dislodged from a westbound semi and come to rest in the middle of the eastbound lanes. Authorities say the truck clipped the back of one semi (driven by T.J. White, of Action Carriers), and careened head-on into a second semi (driven by Maurice J. Pitre of U.S. Xpress).

The accident scattered wreckage over several hundred yards of the interstate. The cab of the flatbed was mangled beyond recognition. The trailer, tipped on its side, completely blocked all of the westbound lanes. The U.S. Xpress truck also came to rest on its side. It stopped on the shoulder of the interstate. The Action Carriers truck remained upright, but the doors to the trailer were almost completely unhinged.

Gerard, 43, and his son Jayson Kleinschmit, 16, both of Crofton, NE, were pronounced dead at the scene. A third person, Deborah Dufrene, 44, Westwego, LA, was also fatally injured. Deborah was a passenger in the U.S. Express truck/trailer that was struck head-on.

Pitre, the driver of the U.S. Xpress truck, was transported to Truman Medical Center West in Kansas City, and was released the following day. Both White and her partner Gary Roach were shaken up but uninjured.

Cleanup and investigation went on for more than four hours before the westbound lanes were again opened for traffic. Sgt. Nate Brown of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who conducted the crash investigation, did not comment on whether or not any arrests had been made. Authorities on the scene, however, say the truck had been located at a weigh station just a few miles down I-70.

-Jason Cisper, with photos by Donna Carlson