Driver’s texting probed in crash

Posted: October 13, 2012

The Winchester Star

A tractor-trailer rear-ended this Jeep Grand Cherokee in which two people died Oct. 5, on Interstate 81 south of Exit 310. The truck driver’s cell phone is being held as evidence in the accident. (Photo by Scott Mason/The Winchester Star)

WINCHESTER — Police are investigating whether the driver of a tractor-trailer involved in a fatal Oct. 5 crash was text-messaging with a cell phone at the time of the accident, according to a search warrant filed Friday.

State Police officials said Lance W. Anderson, 43, of Hudson, S.D., was driving a 2007 Peterbilt tractor-trailer on Interstate 81 near the Kernstown Commons shopping complex when he triggered a three-car accident that killed two people.

Heather Lee Santor, 39, and Acoye Marcouis Breckenridge, 18, both of Staunton, died at the scene from injuries sustained in the accident, Sgt. F.L. Tyler said in a previous interview.

According to a warrant filed in Frederick County Circuit Court by Trooper B.G. Davis, Anderson’s phone was confiscated — with his consent — as a possible contributing factor in the crash.

“I observed that there was cellular/text activity consistent with the timeframe of and leading to the accident,” Davis wrote in the warrant.

The warrant authorizes the search of “any and all stored electronic data including text messages, phone call records, call history, contact list/phone book, emails, browsing history, images, videos, stored audio, calendar, [Global Positioning System] information and memo/to-do.”

The phone is stored in a State Police evidence locker.

Anderson told officers at the scene that he was reaching for an item in his passenger seat, according to the warrant.

Davis said in a previous interview that Anderson was cited for reckless driving at the time of the wreck, which occurred at about 8 p.m. in the southbound lanes of the highway.

Tyler said Friday night that he was not familiar with the content of the warrant and would not be able to comment until Monday.

Harry Hamilton Sr., 66, of Kernstown said he and his daughter Jenelle R. Embrey, 45, of Linden were taking a drive in his 2002 Chrysler PT Cruiser when roadwork near Exit 310 brought traffic to a halt. Embrey was driving.

Santor’s 1998 Jeep Cherokee had come to a stop behind them. Also in the car was Santor’s 18-year-old son Zackary Thomas Santor.

As the two vehicles waited, the tractor-trailer rammed into the back of the Jeep, causing it to rear-end the PT Cruiser, Hamilton said.

When the tractor-trailer hit the Jeep, it veered into the left lane, and the force of the impact caused the PT Cruiser to spin around and hit the side of the tractor-trailer.

The PT Cruiser continued to spin and struck a guardrail.

The Jeep caught fire, and Hamilton said he was able to rip out Zackary Santor’s window and reach in to pull him to safety before the vehicle became fully engulfed.

Once Zackary was out, two off-duty firefighters arrived and used a fire extinguisher on the blaze until it was emptied, Hamilton said.

Zackary Santor was taken to Winchester Medical Center for unknown injuries.

Other than a few bruises on his daughter and cuts on his hands from pulling out the window on the Jeep, Hamilton said he and his daughter were not hurt. Anderson also escaped injury.

Members of the State Police crash reconstruction and motor carrier safety teams assisted troopers at the scene, in addition to the Frederick County Sheriff’s Office and Millwood and Stephens City volunteer fire and rescue companies.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com