Truck Driver Accused in Deadly Crash Heads to Court

An Allentown man arrested and charged in a deadly fiery crash that closed I-78 for hours is set to be in a Northampton County court this morning.

Robert Wayne Gawne Sr.(pictured), 55, was arrested last month and charged with vehicular homicide, involuntary manslaughter, reckless endangerment and traffic violations.

On the morning of Jan. 13, police say Daniel Murphy of Hackettstown, N.J. was stopped in toll lane 4 of I-78 near Morgan Hill Road in Williams Township. As Murphy was in the lane, police say a ShopRite tractor-trailer driven by Gawne rammed into Murphy's 200 Ford Taurus wagon.

The force of the crash carried both vehicles through the tollbooth -- Murphy's wagon becoming stuck under the big rig. Parts of the wreckage slammed into the tollbooth before coming to a stop several lanes over against an embankment and bursting into flames, sending smoke billowing into the air.

"It's a terrible sight," said Pennsylvania State Trooper Marc Allen at the time of the crash.

Murphy, 65, was trapped in the wreckage and died at the scene. Gawne got out and was transported to a local hospital, according to ShopRite.

A tollbooth worker who ran towards the fiery crash with a fire extinguisher was also injured.

Witnesses claimed they saw the tractor-trailer swerving and moving quickly before the crash. State Police told the Morning Call that Gawne admitted to nodding off about a half hour before the crash.

A preliminary hearing is set for 10:30 a.m. Tuesday in front of Magisterial District Judge Daniel Corpora.

It's unclear if more details will be revealed about the wreck that damaged the tollbooth left a backup spread all the way back to New Jersey where police diverted cars off the highway.

Gawne was arrested on Jan. 23 and sent to county prison after being unable to post $50,000 bail. He is also a registered sex offender with a primary offense of sexual assault, according to the Megan's Law website.

ShopRite released a brief statement following the wreck that in part read: "...Our thoughts and sympathies go out to the families of all involved in this terrible accident."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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