FRANKLIN COUNTY, Pa. (WHTM)– Five people and one dog are dead from a crash that shut down I-81N in Greene Township, Franklin County, according to a PennDOT spokesperson.
Pennsylvania State Police say they were dispatched to the area of Mile Marker 18, northbound on I-81 at around 8:50 p.m. on Wednesday.
When they arrived, police determined that a motorhome that was towing a trailer in the southbound lane sustained a blown front left tire causing it to travel across the median and into the northbound lanes. Police say the RV then hit a tandem tractor-trailer in a head-on collision, tragically killing four inside the RV and the truck driver.
The occupants of the RV, Donald Molander, Kimberly Molander, Miranda Molander, and Dane Molander, were from Middletown, Pennsylvania. The driver of the tractor-trailer, James Shade, was from Martinsburg, West Virginia.
“Really unfortunate, incredibly tragic,” PennDOT spokesperson Dave Thompson said. “We do so much education and engineering solutions to try to make our highways safer, yet people are still being killed on our highways, it’s very tragic.”
The stretch of I-81 where the crash happened does have a cable fence in the median. Thompson said the motorhome did hit the cable or the anchor which the fence was attached to, but it still ended up in oncoming traffic after going through an emergency crossover.
That, Thompson said, is a crossover built into highways “so that emergency vehicles can turnaround.”
Thompson added, while this would not have stopped Wednesday’s crash, PennDOT does have a project planned to get cable medians on as many highways in the Midstate as possible.
He also said everything about the crash is unfortunate, starting with the tire blowout.
“I’ve seen a large truck have a blowout driving ahead of me…and it was pretty scary,” he said.
For drivers who find themselves in that situation, Thompson said there are some critical do’s and dont’s.
“What you don’t do, and that’s slam on your brakes, I think that can cause your tires to lock up,” he said.
If possible, the best solutions is to slow down enough to gently pull off the road.
“The experts recommend take your foot off the accelerator, pump your brakes, hold onto the steering wheel firmly and try to keep it straight,” Thompson said.
However, he pointed out that in that moment, drivers have to react within a split second.
“It’s easy to talk about it when you’re sitting in your office, but I think the reality of what happens out on the highway is a lot different than what you think in your head when you’re sitting at home,” he said.
The Molanders were en route to a weekend ATV/motocross racing event in Tennessee where 19-year-old Dane raced ATVs and 21-year-old Miranda was a starter.
Tim Cotter, MX Sports Director of Events, tells abc27 the event will continue.
“When we get to our destination, we’re with our families. They may not have the same last names. but they’re truly family,” said Cotter. “We will get together and we will heal as a family. We’re resilient. We will mourn. We will cry. I will laugh, and what we’re going to do it together.”
Andrew Mahey described the Molanders as his “second family at the races” whom he’s camped with at races the past couple of years. He described Dane as a “happy guy” who was friendly and always excited to race.
“This whole race weekend is going to be a lot different with all the families that’ve known them,” said Mahey.
The Franklin Fire Company says the wreckage spanned nearly 500 feet of roadway. A leaking propane tank and a large diesel fuel spill were also managed by first responders.
As of 6:56 a.m. I-81 was reopened and had residual delays.
The crash comes two days after a charter bus crash in Dauphin County killed three people and injured dozens more.
Stay up to date on the latest from abc27 News on-air and on the go with the free abc27 Mobile app.