Wrong-Way Driver Accused Of Killing 5 On Wyoming Highway Sane Enough For Trial

Reportedly high on meth when he drove the wrong way on I-80 and triggered a fiery chain-reaction crash that killed five Bible college students last year, Arthur Nelson agreed Wednesday that he’s sane enough to stand trial.

CM
Clair McFarland

March 20, 20245 min read

Wearing his jail-issued orange jumpsuit, Arthur Nelson is transported from the Carbon County Courthouse in Rawlins on Wednesday morning.
Wearing his jail-issued orange jumpsuit, Arthur Nelson is transported from the Carbon County Courthouse in Rawlins on Wednesday morning. (Clair McFarland, Cowboy State Daily)

RAWLINS — A Tennessee man accused of killing five young people last year on a stretch of Interstate 80 through Wyoming agreed Wednesday that he’s sane enough to face trial.

Arthur Andrew Nelson, 58, was reportedly high on methamphetamine when he drove the wrong way on the highway and triggered a fiery chain-reaction crash on I-80 near Rawlins the evening of Jan. 22, 2023.

He waited for his hearing Wednesday morning on a bench outside the Carbon County District Courtroom, shackled, wearing an orange jumpsuit and thick eyeglasses. He had a calm demeanor and gazed out the sunny third-floor window just past the stairs.

He then joined his defense attorney, Patty Bennett, in the courtroom, where he said nothing.

State mental health personnel had presented an evaluation of Nelson to Judge Dawnessa Snyder on Feb. 21, after Nelson’s prosecution was paused for nearly a year because of concerns he was not mentally fit to participate in his case.

“Mr. Nelson doesn’t agree with all the facts and findings in the competency evaluation,” began Bennett, adding that nevertheless, “We do not contest the finding Mr. Nelson is now competent to proceed.”

Bennett first asked for a pause in the case May 2, 2023. Nelson was sent to the Wyoming State Hospital for “restoration,” she said.

What the evaluation says exactly the public will not know. Those findings are not public record.

Unless he establishes a plea agreement and abandons the not-guilty plea he gave last March, Nelson’s next court proceeding will be a jury trial.

Snyder will calculate his trial date based on constitutional parameters, she said Wednesday.

Chain Reaction

Nelson is accused of driving east in his Dodge Ram 3500 in the westbound lane of traffic on I-80 the evening of Jan. 22, colliding with a commercial truck and another car. The resulting chain-reaction crash injured six people and killed the five young people in a pickup that burst into flames.

“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 reports.

Some people in the other vehicles involved in the crash were taken to area hospitals with what the Highway Patrol reported as “critical injuries.”

Arthur A Nelson 1 24

Shock, Grief For Community

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.

He Was Unscathed

Nelson was the only person involved in the crash to walk away from it unscathed.

In a court hearing days after the fatal crash, Wyoming Highway Patrol Trooper Corey McCallister testified about the gruesome, chaotic scene when he responded that night, including encountering an obviously impaired Nelson who insisted he wasn’t driving the wrong way on I-80 despite witnesses reporting his vehicle do so.

McCallister detailed a chaotic, dystopian scene when he arrived shortly after the crash.

Driving east in the westbound lane of I-80, Nelson’s truck sideswiped a FedEx commercial truck then hit a small Infiniti SUV nearly head-on, according to the affidavit. The Infiniti had been trying to pass another commercial vehicle at the time.

That semitrailer, an MS Freight truck, spun and tried to avoid a crash, McCallister’s affidavit continues. It came to rest across the median in the eastbound lane of the interstate.

“There was no other cause for the MS Freight commercial motor vehicle to leave its lane of travel except to avoid a head-on collision with (Nelson’s) vehicle,” according to the affidavit.

There, it hit head-on with a red Ford F-150 carrying the five young people. The Ford was fully engulfed in flames when he got there, McCallister said, and the MS Freight truck was burning.

The driver of the MS Freight truck was still in the cab when McCallister got to it.

“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 his affidavit of the incident. “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.

The trooper also wrote that he initially observed one of the five people in the Ford had been ejected, then later saw the four others burned inside.

Contact Clair McFarland at clair@cowboystatedaily.com

The five young people killed in the Jan. 22, 2023, crash are, not in order, Suzy Prime, Ava Luplow, Salomon Correa, Magdalene “Maggie” Franco and Andrea Prime. There were all on their way home to Arkansas after a visit to a Wyoming Bible college.
The five young people killed in the Jan. 22, 2023, crash are, not in order, Suzy Prime, Ava Luplow, Salomon Correa, Magdalene “Maggie” Franco and Andrea Prime. There were all on their way home to Arkansas after a visit to a Wyoming Bible college. (Courtesy Photo)

Clair McFarland can be reached at clair@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Clair McFarland

Crime and Courts Reporter