Four passengers in a vehicle traveling west on Interstate 80 were killed in a Sunday morning crash that likely contributed to two other collisions that combined to close eastbound lanes for several hours.
The Nebraska State Patrol said a fifth person was killed in a subsequent fiery crash, contributing to one of the deadliest days on I-80 in eastern Nebraska in recent memory.
I-80 eastbound is closed west of the Seward interchange due to a multi vehicle accident. More info to come. pic.twitter.com/55v0fYNuvs— Tyler Cavalli (@RadioCavalli) May 6, 2018
The crashes were still under investigation late Sunday afternoon, but traffic backed up by the initial crash likely contributed to the series of collisions, said Seward County Sheriff Joe Yocum.
The first crash was reported at 7:25 a.m., when the 20-year-old driver of a westbound vehicle drove onto rumble strips on the north shoulder, overcorrected, crossed the median and struck a vehicle traveling in the eastbound lanes near the Milford rest area, the sheriff's office said.
The four passengers in the westbound car, including three who were thrown from the vehicle, all died, a news release said.
Both drivers, including the 76-year-old driver of the eastbound vehicle, were flown to Bryan West Campus for treatment of life-threatening injuries.
The identities of those killed and injured haven't been released.
Eastbound traffic was initially diverted through the parking lot of the I-80 rest area at mile marker 381, but later was detoured at the Seward exit.
Other crashes were reported at mile marker 378, near Seward, and mile marker 367 near Utica.
Abdiaziz Jama, 33, of Columbus, Ohio, was killed in the four-vehicle crash near Seward, the State Patrol said in a news release late Sunday afternoon.
Jama was driving a semi that failed to slow down in backed-up traffic near the Seward exit and rear-ended another semi, causing a chain-reaction crash including a third semi and a pickup, the State Patrol said.
Jama's semi caught fire as a result of the crash, which was reported around 10 a.m. In the news release, a State Patrol spokesman said investigators believe Jama may have been texting as he approached slower traffic.
It's been a bad day on I-80 between Lincoln and York with multiple fatality crashes.— NEStatePatrol (@NEStatePatrol) May 6, 2018
There have been crashes at mile markers 381, 378, and 367. The NSP helicopter landed on the interstate to assist at mile marker 367.
Please use caution on the roads and always buckle up. pic.twitter.com/2LctYVmWPg
A passenger in Jama's semi was taken to the hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening. No other injuries were reported in the crash near the Seward exit.
The third collision, reported 14 miles west of the initial crash at 11:35 a.m., involved an SUV that the State Patrol said rear-ended a semi after failing to slow down in traffic. The SUV's driver, Jeffrey Eymann, 68, of Grand Island, was taken to the hospital with injuries that were not life-threatening.
Eastbound lanes of I-80 reopened around 1 p.m.
As 13,000 runners pound the pavement, there's a sprint of sorts going on under a tent not far from the finish line for the Lincoln Marathon.
There, volunteers from the Nebraska National Guard scramble to organize the 13,000 or so bags of clothes and other personal items dropped off by runners so that they can be promptly returned moments after they finish the race.
The bag drop system has been a part of the Lincoln Marathon for nearly three decades.
“We just do it as a courtesy,” said Lu Wetzler, the marathon's volunteer coordinator. “Otherwise they run, finish and get cold and need to wait until they get to their car.”
Each runner's packet includes an official Lincoln Marathon bag marked with their race number. Before heading to the starting line at 7 a.m., runners leave their bag with volunteers.
As the runners cover the half-marathon or marathon route, their belongings are organized in containers, each with room for 200 or so bags.
About 65 containers were deployed Sunday for the 13,000 bags checked in by runners.
In the past, however, the bag drop system wasn’t as organized. Before bringing in the containers, bags were simply thrown into the back of a truck. That led to problems, and headaches, when runner No. 3297 showed up for bag No. 3297.
To keep the thousands of bags secured — and organized — this year, approximately 50 members of the National Guard and the Civil Air Patrol were on duty.
“It takes a lot of manpower,” Master Sgt. Paul Smedra said.
Sunday's dry weather made things easier for those helping out with the bags. Without rain to worry about, or low temperatures, runners needed less gear than other years.
But like the runners, volunteers stationed across the city had to deal with a little more heat than we've seen so far this spring.
Runners who finished the race earlier enjoyed comfortable, even cool, morning temperatures. Those on the course later in the day, however, experienced temperatures that quickly climbed through the 70s to a high of 86 degrees.
"We're going to have sunburned volunteers at the end of the day," Wetzler said.
Overall, organizers chalked up Sunday's race as a success.
Omaha Police Officer Dave Hanzek, who has volunteered to assist with Lincoln Marathon security for several years, says that's a direct result of the work organizers and volunteers put in.
The bag drop in just one example.
“It would be chaos without it,” Hanzek said.
Largely due to its role in setting the route through the state for the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, the Nebraska Public Service Commission has garnered a higher profile over the past few years, including from candidates for political office.
This year is no different, as there are five people seeking the District 1 seat, hoping to replace Frank Landis of Lincoln, who is retiring after serving for 30 years on the commission.
Three Republicans and two Democrats are seeking to represent District 1, which includes Lincoln and covers Lancaster, Gage, Cass, Otoe, Johnson, Nemaha, Pawnee and Richardson counties.
The seat is elected on a partisan basis, so one person from each party will advance out of the primary to the general election.
There is one other PSC seat up for election, in District 3, which covers Washington, Saunders and Sarpy counties, as well as western Douglas County. Candidates for that race are Democrat Mike Forsythe and Republican incumbent Tim Schram. Both will advance to the general election.
The Public Service Commission regulates telecommunications carriers, natural gas utilities, major oil pipelines, railroad safety, passenger carriers (such as taxis and ride-hailing services) and household-goods movers, grain warehouses and dealers, modular home and recreational-vehicle construction, high-voltage electric transmission lines and private water company rates.
Its five-member board guides commission staff and has the final say on permitting, rate approval, disciplinary actions and other orders issued by the commission.
The three Republicans seeking election in District 1 are Ron Nolte, a retired farmer and airline pilot from Plattsmouth; Scott Smathers of Lincoln, who is executive director of the Nebraska Sportsmen's Foundation; and Dan Watermeier, a farmer and state senator from Syracuse.
On the Democratic side, John Atkeison, a retired activist, will face Christa Yoakum, a program coordinator at Nebraska Appleseed. Both live in Lincoln.
The candidates generally fall along partisan lines when it comes to the Keystone XL pipeline, with both Yoakum and Atkeison saying that they do not support the pipeline, even with the PSC's decision last year to approve an alternate route that more closely follows the route of an existing pipeline owned by TransCanada.
Nolte and Smathers both said they support the pipeline. Watermeier declined to comment on the pipeline specifically, noting that because the siting decision has been appealed, it could wind up in front of the PSC again in the future. But he said he supports increased use of domestic energy sources as well as those from "trusted neighbors," such as Canada.
On some other issues, the partisan line is less clear.
For example, on the question of whether rapid technological change in some industries requires "increased vigilance" from the PSC, Atkeison, Nolte and Watermeier all said that it's required to some degree.
Yoakum said the PSC should not stand in the way of economic opportunity from changing industries, and she advocated for public investment to ensure new technologies create equal opportunities for all Nebraskans.
Smathers equated "increased vigilance" with more regulations and said such a policy blunts competition and leads to higher prices and lower-quality services.
One area where all five candidates are in general agreement is that the PSC has done a good job on regulating the state's utilities fairly and effectively.