Trucker faces charges after crash with prisoner van injures 5

DICKSON, Tenn. (AP) - A truck going the wrong way on Interstate 40 and a van carrying prisoners crashed Tuesday, sending five people to the hospital.

The truck driver faces charges in the incident that occurred just before 5 a.m., according to Tennessee Safety Department spokeswoman Julie Oaks.

Officials with the prisoner-transportation company that owned the van said the accident occurred because the tractor-trailer truck jackknifed while trying to make a U-turn on the interstate.

"The trailer had no caution lights on and made no attempts to let other drivers know what he was doing," said Randy Cagle, owner and president of Memphis-based Con-Link Transportation Corp. "My agents, by the time they saw what had happened, they hit the trailer head on."

The Tennessee Highway Patrol had dispatched a trooper about 20 minutes earlier to check a report that the tractor-trailer rig was driving in the wrong direction. Oaks said that by the time a trooper located the truck, the crash had already occurred in the eastbound lanes about 40 miles west of Nashville.

Authorities said they didn't think drinking was a factor in the accident. But the truck driver, identified as Yakov Melnick, will be charged with reckless driving and exceeding the 11-hour maximum a commercial driver can work, Oaks said.

She said Melnick, whose hometown wasn't available, had been driving for 13½ hours at the time of the crash.

All five of the van's occupants, two guards and three prisoners, were injured, Cagle said. Melnick wasn't injured, investigators said.

One prisoner and one guard were flown to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville. Cagle said the guard, Sgt. Marshall Arnold, was in stable condition with a broken leg while the inmate, whose name wasn't released, was in stable condition with multiple injuries.

The second guard, Steven Knudson, and the other inmates were taken to Horizon Medical Center in Dickson, where they received treatment for cuts and other minor injuries, Cagle said.

Knudson was driving the van that crashed into the trailer was owned by Sonya Express of Cleveland, Ohio.

Cagle said all inmates were restrained at the hands and the legs and were wearing orange jumpsuits. Everyone on the van was wearing a seat belt, he said.

Con-Link transports prisoners for jails and other government institutions.

Oaks said the van was coming from Memphis after picking up prisoners in Orange County, Texas, and Arkansas and was heading to Kentucky at the time of the accident.

Cagle said that his company would conduct an independent investigation into the accident to make sure that company procedures were followed.

A 1997 prison van fire along the same stretch of interstate killed six inmates after the vehicle's universal joint failed and the drive shaft punctured the gas tank. That van was operated by Federal Extradition Agency Inc.

(Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)