1 airlifted after 3-car crash

A man wobbled unsteadily and lifted his arms for balance as North Carolina Highway Patrol troopers helped him to his feet, patted him down and placed him in handcuffs.

The man was involved in a three-car crash Tuesday on Interstate 40 that caused one victim to be airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte.

Troopers on the scene said prescription drugs were involved in the crash.

Emergency responders were called Tuesday to eastbound I-40 at the 138 mile marker near Oxford School Road about 2:30 p.m. The crash happened directly below the I-40 overpass in the eastbound lane when a blue Dodge Ram pickup truck crashed into a white Ford Crown Victoria. The names of those drivers weren't released on the scene.

The Crown Victoria then crashed into a silver Mercedes, driven by Leroy Lail and his wife, county commissioner Lynn Lail.

The Crown Victoria sustained major damage in the crash, with the vehicle's trunk smashed into the car and rotated to the left. The driver of that vehicle, a man, was entrapped in the car, and emergency responders worked on the scene to extricate the victim.

"They told us 'code red,'" said Catawba Fire Chief Don Robinson.

Emergency personnel called for a helicopter to transport the victim to the hospital from the scene of the crash. The chopper, however, was rerouted to Catawba Valley Medical Center, where the victim was transported by ambulance. The victim was then airlifted to Carolinas Medical Center in Charlotte, said N.C. Highway Patrol Trooper Bobby Lineberger. The man's condition wasn't available as of press time Wednesday.

The Lails were uninjured in the crash and told reporters on the scene that they were "OK." The Lails declined to speak further about the incident.

Troopers on the scene detained the man driving the Dodge Ram and appeared to be conducting sobriety tests on him about 50 yards away from the crash scene. The man appeared to be swaying in place, and officers had to steady him as he was placed in handcuffs in the back of a patrol car.

Meanwhile, firefighters cleared the wreckage from the crash, which backed up I-40 eastbound until the Claremont exit at mile marker 135.

Drivers on eastbound I-40 were routed away from the crash by traveling onto the exit 138 off ramp, across the bridge and back on the interstate. The road was reopened to traffic about 4 p.m.

Fuel leaked from the Crown Victoria after the crash, and crews poured a sand mixture to soak the gasoline from the roadway.

"I don't see how that didn't catch fire," Robinson said.

All three vehicles involved in the crash were towed from the scene.

Twisted metal and glass from the vehicles littered the roadway. The Dodge Ram sustained major damage to its left side, crumpling the rear wheel upward. Contents from the truck, including a tool box and several boxes, were scattered several feet from where the impact occurred.

The Lail's Mercedes appeared to have the least damage in the crash. It was struck from behind by the Crown Victoria.

Troopers on the scene couldn't release the names of those involved in the crash, but they said the incident remains under investigation.