Truck driver who caused I-57 crash headed to prison

Truck driver who caused I-57 crash headed to prison

URBANA — An Arkansas truck driver whose drug use apparently led to an Interstate 57 crash that seriously injured one person and damaged several vehicles faces several years in prison.

Jess Plunkett, 42, of Paragould, Ark., pleaded guilty Thursday before Judge Adam Dill to aggravated driving under the influence of drugs, admitting that he used cannabis and amphetamines prior to the May 8 crash on I-57 northbound.

Assistant State's Attorney Will Lynch said he would cap his sentencing recommendation at 6 1 / 2 years behind bars, even though Plunkett could face up to 12 years. Whatever sentence he receives must be served at 85 percent time since a person was seriously injured.

Dill set sentencing for Jan. 24.

Just before 2 p.m. that Tuesday a group of vehicles was stopped on I-57, about two miles south of Pesotum, because a truck had stalled on the highway.

Lynch said Plunkett was driving a semitrailer tractor truck and came up on the stopped vehicles, ramming into the back end of one car, which caused a chain reaction. In all, three cars and another semitrailer truck were damaged when Plunkett failed to stop.

The crash was the cause of serious injuries to David Simpkins, 65, of Newman, who was taken to Carle Foundation Hospital in Urbana for treatment of a broken vertebra, Lynch said.

The prosecutor said an Illinois State trooper described Plunkett as sweating profusely and displaying slow motor functions. He admitted to the trooper that he had recently smoked cannabis and taken some crushed "uppers."

Lynch said a state crime lab analysis showed amphetamines and methamphetmines in Plunkett's system.

Plunkett had a prior driving under the influence conviction from Joplin County, Missouri, from 1998, Lynch said.

While troopers were sorting out the five-vehicle collision prompted by Plunkett, there was another three-vehicle crash.

Andrew Bergan of Champaign was stopped in traffic when he was hit in the rear by a truck and his car caught fire. His car then hit another car in front of him. Police and motorists pulled him to safety.

Three people were treated at Carle from that second chain-reaction collision.

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