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No charges filed yet for truck driver; prayers asked for survivor of wreck that killed 6

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A truck driver from Pennsylvania was released without charges Thursday night while state police continue their investigation into the morning chain-reaction crash that killed six people on Route 11 in the town of Antwerp.

A survivor of the 9:07 a.m. six-vehicle fiery pileup was listed a serious condition Friday morning at Upstate Medical University, Syracuse. Lewis L. Lottie Jr., 44, Nicholville, underwent surgery Thursday night for deep facial cuts, according to his sister-in-law, Tari Burnett. He escaped as the New York State Department of Transportation pickup he was driving burst into flames from a gas tank explosion. Ms. Burnett said in an e-mail he was pulled from the truck by DOT personnel and employees of Barrett Paving, Watertown.

Barrett, under contract with the state, was resurfacing the highway, and was stopping traffic at the work zone when the crash occurred.

Mr. Lottie was to have more surgery Friday for a fractured pelvis and leg injuries, Ms. Burnett said. She also listed his injuries to include multiple burns, a fractured collarbone, a punctured lung, and spinal issues.

Investigator Patrick A. Hathaway said Friday he is uncertain about when charges will be filed against James A. Mills Jr., 45, Myerstown, Pa., the driver of the tractor-trailer that set off the tragic chain of events. He said it will take a significant amount of time for the state police traffic accident reconstruction unit, Oneida Troop D headquarters, “to put it all together,” including on-scene measurements, land and aerial photography, fire cause determinations, and statements from witnesses.

Mandatory blood samples drawn from Mr. Mills have been sent to a laboratory for drug and alcohol analysis, Mr. Hathaway said.

“We are trying to figure out why he didn’t view the stopped vehicles,” Mr. Hathaway said. “From our perspective, we believe there was adequate signage” to alert motorists on construction work ahead. “We are trying to figure out what went wrong.”

Signs warning of double fines for speeding in construction zones were in place at locations both north and south of the accident scene, which was just south of the Route 11 intersection with Dickson and Fox Ranch roads.

The dead included five women in a fire-engulfed car: Laurie M. Dana, 42, of 11858 Route 11, North Lawrence, a special-education/speech teacher at St. Lawrence Elementary School, Brasher Falls; her daughters, Caitlyn O., 14, and Lauryn, 11; the girls’ grandmother, Janet Dana, 69, Caitlyn’s friend Shannon Planty, 14, a student in the Brushton-Moira Central School District, and the woman whose car was the first to be struck by the tractor-trailer, Maryann D. Gregory, 59, Dickinson Center, Franklin County.

Mr. Lottie, the father of four, is president of DOT-CSEA Local 518, and was traveling to Watertown for a business meeting, Ms. Burnett said.

“Our family is asking all people in the community to please pray for Lew’s recovery and wish to send our condolences and deepest sympathy to those that lost their loved ones in this unfortunate accident,” Ms. Burnett said.

Two trucks were at the very front of the line, and their drivers were not injured. The company owning the lead truck, a box tractor-trailer operated by Wayne Wielt, Clifton Park, has retained The Crash Lab, Inc., Hampton, N.H., to conduct an independant investigation, according to a representative of the Hampton firm.

The second truck in line was a flatbed owned by ABC Lumber, Beloit, Wis., operated by Peter Feher, Syracuse.

The accident scene was cleared shortly after 9 p.m. Thursday, and Route 11 was reopened at 9:17 p.m. to traffic.

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