RAWLINS — The wrong-way driver accused of causing a chain-reaction crash on Interstate 80 that killed five people Sunday evening has been charged with five felony counts of aggravated homicide and a laundry list of other charges.
Arthur Nelson, 57, of Limestone, Tennessee, is being held in the Carbon County jail on a $500,000 cash-only bond, charged with causing a multi-vehicle crash that killed four woman and a man, ages 18-23, on their way home from a weeklong visit to Jackson Hole Bible College.
He was driving a Dodge Ram 3500 truck east in the westbound lane of I-80 shortly before 7 p.m. Sunday, colliding with a semitrailer and another vehicle just east of Rawlins, Wyoming.
A second semitrailer coming up behind the crash scene swerved out of the westbound lane to avoid the other vehicles, ran through the median and into the eastbound lane of the interstate.
There, the commercial truck struck a Ford F-150 head-on carrying the five Bible college visitors. Both trucks burst into flames and all five in the Ford were killed.
A Repeat Offender
In arguing for the high bond during Nelson’s initial court appearance in Rawlins on Wednesday afternoon, deputy Carbon County attorney Mark Nugent told Circuit Court Judge Susan Stipe that Nelson has spent the better part of the past 17 years in prison on a number of felony conviction.
He said Nelson’s criminal record includes a previous driving under the influence charge along with a conviction for aggravated statutory rape and escape.
Nelson’s history and the nature of the charges relating to the highway deaths are “obviously, very concerning,” Nugent said.
He also told the judge Nelson should be considered a flight risk, telling the judge that his office has “very major concerns about his being a very serious flight risk and a danger to the community,” Nugent said.
Stipe agreed and set the high bond.
Nelson was among a handful of people making their first appearances in Carbon County Circuit Court and had his hearing remotely via closed circuit video from the jail.
Wearing a standard orange jumpsuit and sitting at a table in front of the camera, Nelson responded to the judge’s questions, but didn’t say much else.
He said he wanted a court-appointed attorney, and when asked if he understood the charges against him, he replied in a Southern drawl, “Yes, I do.”
Along with the five aggravated homicide charges, which each carry a presumptive sentence of up to 20 years in prison and/or up to a $10,000 fine, Nelson was charged with five other felonies in relation to the deadly crash.
He’s also charged with:
- Driving under the influence of a controlled substance causing serious bodily injury.
- Reckless driving
- Two counts of reckless endangering for non-fatal injuries caused to a FedEx driver and the driver of an Infinity that were part of the crash.
- Driving the wrong way on a divided highway.
- Driving while license suspended for a previous DUI conviction.
While it wasn’t disclosed during Wednesday’s hearing what substance Nelson is alleged to have been impaired by at the time, Nugent made a reference to Nelson admitting he had used drugs.
The deputy county attorney referenced his “admissions of recent meth use.”
Judge Stipe set a preliminary hearing for Nelson for 3:30 p.m. Feb. 1.
The affidavit of probable cause for Arthur Nelson’s arrest wasn’t immediately available after his initial court appearance Wednesday. Visit CowboyStateDaily.com for more on this developing story.