An Autryville woman who was a “pillar of support” in her community and church was killed Wednesday when a log truck struck her vehicle head-on as she traveled along U.S. 421, just north of the Clinton city limits, a deadly wreck in which charges have now been brought.
Norma Page Howard, 69, of Howard Road, Autryville, was pronounced dead at the scene of the harrowing wreck that mangled her Buick SUV and sent logs flying across U.S. 421 near the Star Telephone offices, closing down the roadway to traffic in both directions.
N.C. Highway Patrol authorities in Sampson said the three-vehicle collision began when the tractor-trailer carrying the logs failed to reduce its speed, clipping a Star Telephone van as it attempted to turn into the Star Telephone driveway. The log truck then careened out of control, smashing Howard’s Buick head-on and overturning.
According to reports, the collision happened at 4:39 p.m. Wednesday about two-tenths of a mile north of Browns Church Road. The tractor-trailer, driven by Trevor Casey Webb, 21, of Princeton, was traveling south on U.S. 421 behind a Star Telephone van being driven by Justin Aaron Wrench of Dunn. The Star van was reportedly stopped in the south-bound lane attempting a left-hand turn into the public driveway. At this same time, Howard’s Buick was traveling north on U.S. 421.
The log truck failed to reduce speed and struck the Star van on the right rear corner, sending the tractor-trailer onto the right shoulder, before it re-entered the roadway and crossed the centerline, striking Howard’s vehicle head-on, reports state.
“The log truck overturned across both lanes of travel,” Highway Patrol spokeswoman Tina Byrd said, relaying reports.
According to patrol reports, the log truck was estimated to be traveling about 50 mph when it clipped the Star van. Howard was traveling 55 mph traveling the opposite direction. Wrench did not sustain any injuries and Webb received only minor injuries in the collision, authorities said.
Webb has been charged with misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, failure to reduce speed and left of center.
Family, Star reacts
Many are now left to mourn the loss of Howard, including her family and the people who knew her well at her church and community.
“She was a pillar of support for her church, Union Grove Baptist (in) Salemburg, our WMU Group, Bible studies we have had — she was her family’s strength and guidance,” said Howard’s cousin Maedean Tyndall Honeycutt. “She was overcoming Parkinson’s and inspired others. We love her and will truly have a void in our community and church. She played piano over 50 years for our services and led the choir for 25. She has left her footprint.”
The deadly collision prompted Lyman Horne, executive vice president and general manager for Star Telephone, to call Highway Patrol authorities and request any assistance — patrols, enforcement and the like — they could get to prevent such an occurrence from happening again.
“It’s terrible out here,” said Horne. “Fortunately our guy is OK, but it is unfortunate what has happened.”
This is not the first time a tractor-trailer, specifically a log truck, has barrelled down U.S. 421 with no signs of stopping. Horne said he has experienced it before, looking up in his rear-view mirror to find a truck getting larger and larger. It is what Wrench said he saw Wednesday afternoon.
“He said he saw the log truck in his rear-view mirror. When he passed the last bridge he said the truck was not slowing down. He basically came in the driveway on two wheels (to avoid being hit),” said Horne. “The truck just nicked our van but it was a nearly head-on collision with the SUV. It nearly wiped out the entire driver’s side.”
Star employees and others smashed the glass out of the windows to try to help Howard, but it was too late. It is an eye-opening occurrence in a place that has been the site of a number of near-misses in recent years, Horne noted.
“We’ve had a couple of close calls between employees and log trucks before,” the Star general manager said, noting minimal, if any, skid marks indicating the truck had slowed prior to impact. “There are trucks going by here virtually all day. There’s no need to be flying down the road.”
Wednesday’s deadly collision was the eight fatal wreck on Sampson County roadways in 2016 and the 10th life claimed as a result. It was the first such wreck since June 26, when three people — Katie Lee, 21, Jason Williams, 32, and his 5-year-old son Christopher — were killed in a head-on wreck in the Godwin area of Sampson County.
There were 12 deaths on Sampson County roadways at this point last year.
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