Published 12:00 am Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Traffic was backed up Monday afternoon just south of the Enid exit following a two-car accident on I-55. Photo by David Howell

Fiery crash on I-55 claims life of Alabama man

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By David Howell

The North Mississippi Herald
ENID – An Alabama man was killed in a fiery crash on I-55 Monday afternoon when his pickup exploded in flames after colliding with a semi. The accident occurred in Yalobusha County at the Enid Lake exit.
Alejandro Gregorio-Ortega, 36, was pronounced dead at the scene as multiple agencies from Panola, Tallahatchie and Yalobusha counties responded to  a crash scene described by Yalobusha County Sheriff Lance Humphreys as among the worst he had worked.
“We had a witness report the truck burst into flames immediately on impact,” Humphreys told the Herald.  Debris was scattered almost 100 yards, leaving an oily trail that started at the point of impact and ended where the vehicles came to rest. Gregorio-Ortega was traveling north at the time of the crash.
A fire north of the accident may have been a factor, as the northbound traffic was moving slow at the time of the accident. Firefighters from Pope and Courtland Fire Departments had responded to a report of a fire in southern Panola County near mile marker 235 that started with a northbound vehicle and quickly spread to adjacent grass and woods.
“Traffic got backed up,” Panola Deputy EMA Director Terry Bryant said, referring to the northbound side of the interstate.
Witnesses reported Gregorio-Ortega was in the slow moving traffic when the vehicles collided.
“It appeared a 1999 International was traveling on I-55 when it collided with a Chevrolet pickup,” Mississippi Highway Patrol Corporal Marvin Baird told the Herald.  The impact pushed Gregorio-Ortega’s truck into a 2015 Peterbilt.
The International was driven by Darrick Brooks, 42, of Holcomb, according to Baird. Brooks was transported to a local hospital with moderate injuries.
It took almost an hour before the emergency responders could free the trapped body from the wreckage as multiple troopers, deputies and other first responders worked the scene and diverted traffic around the accident.
The north-bound traffic was diverted off the interstate, using the Enid exit to bypass the accident as the traffic flowed up the off ramp, across  County Road 36, and immediately back down the on ramp to reenter I-55.
Although the traffic was moving, the vehicles were backed up almost a mile as  motorists slowly navigated the brief excursion off the interstate. Almost two hours after the accident, the slow moving traffic was blamed for a second accident involving three north-bound vehicles on I-55. There were no serious injuries reported in this accident.
Yalobusha County Coroner Ronnie Stark was able to identify the victim after obtaining several items from the scene, including an employment document from a previous job and a dental appointment card. Stark also said Gregorio-Ortega was traveling with a friend who was in a separate vehicle further north on I-55.
“His friend actually called to tell him about the traffic situation when he got to the wreck in Panola County. He did not get an answer,” Stark explained. Stark said the two men were headed to Memphis, where they had lined up work in the coming weeks.
The body was sent to Jackson Monday afternoon for an autopsy and Stark said dental records would also be used to provide further evidence of the identity of the body. The coroner also said he had been unable to talk directly with Gregorio-Ortega’s family members in Mexico, but notified friends.