A truck driver is being held on $1 million bond for his alleged role in a wreck that killed four members of a family driving two different vehicles on Interstate 80 over the weekend.
According to Cheyenne County (Nebraska) Attorney Paul Schaub, deputies from the Cheyenne County Sheriff’s Office responded to a disabled truck in the right westbound lane on Interstate 8 between mile markers 38 and 39 shortly after 4 a.m. Sunday. As traffic backed up in the westbound lanes, a truck driven by 36-year-old Josef Slezak of Rivergrove, IL, slammed into a 2010 Ford Mustang driven by Christopher Schmidt, 30, of Gaithersburg, MD.
The force of the wreck pushed Schmidt’s Mustang into a Toyota Camry that was driven by Diana Schmidt, Christopher Schmidt’s wife, who was 30 weeks pregnant. The Camry was pushed underneath a truck directly in front of it driven by William David Wiener of Algona, IA, who drove for Cornpatch Express of Emmetsburg, IA. Conner Schmidt, 2, and Samual Schmidt, 3, were passengers in the Camry. All occupants of both cars died in the wrecks.
Slezak was charged with four counts of manslaughter and four counts of motor vehicle homicide. He remains in jail on $1 million bond.
Schaub said that as of Wednesday he had found no reason to believe Slezak’s limited ability to speak English was a factor in the wreck.
Through an interpreter, Slezak told investigators he didn’t hear warnings about the wreck because his CB radio wasn’t turned on. A driver for Romeoville, IL-based AKI Trucking, Slezak is reportedly from the former Czechoslovakia Republic.
Asked whether Slezak spoke English well enough to understand a warning on a CB, County Attorney Schaub said, “I cannot answer that for certain at this time.”
The original wreck included a fatality at mile marker 38. Keith A. Johnson of Big Lake, MN, died from injuries sustained at the scene after his truck slammed into the disabled truck. Johnson worked for North Metro Truck Leasing of Albertville, MN. The disabled truck was driven by Vladimir Zhukov of Oak Park, IL. Zhukov drives for MTR Express, Inc., of Wood Dale, IL.
The highway was closed for 14 hours Sunday as law enforcement officers and emergency responders worked the scene and investigators reconstructed both wreck scenes.
Autopsies have been ordered for all deceased parties, a news release from Schaub’s office said.
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