Update: The five victims' names have been added to this story at the request of their loved one.
The man accused of being high on meth while driving the wrong way on Interstate 80 and triggering a chain-reaction crash that killed five young people from Arkansas is not mentally fit to face prosecution, a Wyoming district court judge has ruled.
Arthur Andrew Nelson, 58, of Limestone, Tennessee, is being committed to a Wyoming mental health facility, where state employees will try to make him well enough to face five counts of aggravated vehicular homicide for allegedly causing the multi-vehicle crash that killed five students on their way home from a visit to a Wyoming Bible college.
Health authorities still believe, at this point, that they can make Nelson well enough to someday return to court, according to a July 25 order by Carbon County District Court Judge Dawnessa A. Snyder.
Snyder ordered the Wyoming State Hospital or a facility working under it to keep Nelson as a patient and treat him until he’s fit to face prosecution.
The facility head must let the court know if Nelson gets well enough to go back to court, or if staff find that he can’t be restored mentally.
In Wyoming, people who aren’t mentally fit to face trial and who also no longer pose a danger to themselves or others can be released.
Snyder ordered the Wyoming State Hospital to update the court every three months on Nelson’s progress.
The order came after Nelson’s defense attorney, Senior Assistant Public Defender Patty Bennett, asked Snyder to pause the case May 2.
Snyder paused the case two days later and had Nelson evaluated. Her recent order also is the product of a July 19 hearing on the results of Nelson’s mental health evaluation.
Nelson is accused of driving east in his Dodge Ram 3500 in the westbound lane of traffic on Interstate 80 the evening of Jan. 22, colliding with a commercial truck and another car.
“As the Dodge truck collided with the passenger car, a driver of a second commercial truck attempted to avoid the approaching truck by driving into the median,” the Wyoming Highway Patrol reported in a press release about the crash.
That second commercial truck, owned by MS Freight, went through the median and into the eastbound travel lanes, where it hit a Ford F-150 “head-on,” the report says.
Those vehicles “immediately became engulfed in flames,” and all five people in the Ford F-150 were killed, the Highway Patrol reported. Those were Solomon Correa, Andrea Prime, Ava Luplow, Maggie Franco and Suzy Prime.
The driver of the MS Freight was severely burned with the truck caught fire in the crash, according to the Highway Patrol.
Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Corey McCallister described the scene in an affidavit filed with the court after the crash.
“I reached the cab of the truck tractor … and observed a trapped occupant who was currently being burned around the head area,” he wrote in the affidavit. “I observed plastic began to melt around her face. I observed the majority of her face and head to be burned.”
McCallister said he used the extinguisher to knock down the flames and the driver, a woman with a Mississippi driver’s license, was taken to Carbon County Memorial Hospital then life-flighted to the Colorado Burn Center in Greeley,
All five of the people killed in the F-150 were young people ranging in age from 18 to 23 returning to their hometown of Sherwood, Arkansas, after a weeklong visit to Jackson Hole Bible College in Jackson, Wyoming.
Two were seniors at Sylvan Hills High School in Sherwood, a small community about 10 miles north of Little Rock, Arkansas. The other three were recent graduates of the same high school.
They are Suzy Prime and Ava Luplow, both high school seniors, and Salomon Correa, Magdalene “Maggie” Franco and Andrea Prime, all former Sylvan Hills High students who also attended the Bible college, said Elizabeth Dilts, a member and spokesperson designated by Faith Bible Fellowship church in Sherwood.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.