The Russian national at the wheel of the rig involved in Saturday’s fatal crash on Interstate 70 in South Strabane Township told state police he did not remember what happened and investigators are speculating he may have fallen asleep.
Yevgeniy Burgreyev, 44, of West Sacramento, Calif., was ordered to stand trial following a hearing Wednesday in Central Court before District Judge Larry Hopkins on two counts of homicide by vehicle in the deaths of Karen Babka, 57, and her 21-year-old daughter Kaitlin Babka, both of Hughesville, Md. Washington County Coroner Tim Warco said the two died of multiple injuries.
He also was ordered held for court on charges of aggravated assault by vehicle for the injuries suffered by passengers in a second vehicle. Brandy Lynn Gray, 33, and her 10-year-old daughter, Summer Gray, were seriously injured and taken to Pittsburgh hospitals. Also injured was that vehicle’s driver, Darlene Gray of Washington, and another child.
Burgreyev was traveling west on I-70 just east of the ramp to Interstate 79 south at 11:28 a.m. when his rig crossed through the median into the eastbound lanes. Trooper Todd Stephenson, an accident reconstruction specialist with Troop B in Washington, said the rig collided almost head-on with the car driven by Karen Babka. The rig overturned, pushing the car through a guardrail before coming to rest on the Babka vehicle, which was against a tree. While sliding, the trailer blocked the eastbound lane. Stephenson said Darlene Gray was unable to stop her vehicle before crashing into the roof of the overturned trailer.
Stephenson said there was no sign that Burgreyev used the brakes or took an evasive action in either the westbound or eastbound lanes. A state police motor carrier enforcement officer checked the vehicle and determined that two brakes on the truck were out of adjustment.
Trooper Steven Thompson read notes taken from Burgreyev’s statement, made two hours after the crash, to the court.
“He stated that it happened so quickly that he doesn’t remember what happened,” Thompson said.
Burgreyev told Thompson, “What I remember is that everything was around me. I was driving, maybe I was thinking about something. I don’t know what is happening. It was like I open my ... I was not sleeping. I don’t know what is happening. Maybe something was going on in my mind.”
“He told me was just watching the road and then he made a crash noise,” Thompson said.
Burgreyev told Thompson that when he opened his eyes, he was lying on the shoulder of the road.
“I was driving when it came to my mind I was laying down,” Burgreyev told the trooper. “Like I fall asleep, but I was not asleep.”
He also told the trooper that he was thinking it was a beautiful morning.
“My brain shut off,” he told Thompson. “I don’t know what happened. I remember shaking around. I started thinking, what’s happening? Am I sleeping or what? It was an accident.”
After the crash, Burgreyev told Thompson he asked everyone what had happened and who hit him.
“I thought someone hit me,” he stated to the trooper.
The driver also told Thompson he had not had an alcoholic beverage in a month and said he did not do drugs. He also denied using his cellphone at the time of the crash. Burgreyev told police he had been driving for 13 years.
Stephenson said nine discrepancies were found in the truck driver’s log book in the six days leading up to the crash. In the log entry on the day before the crash, Burgreyev indicated that he was in the sleeper berth beginning at 12:30 p.m. Friday and not in service through 7:30 on the morning of the crash.
But toll receipts and weight slips contradicted that information, Stephenson said. A weight slip indicated the truck was weighed at a scale in Carlisle at 9:54 p.m. Friday. The truck, which was hauling bagged rock salt on pallets wrapped in plastic, weighed 77,720 pounds.
Washington County District Attorney Gene Vittone said his office has made inquiries with the Department of Homeland Security to determine Burgreyev’s immigration status.
“We do know he is a Russian national and does have a valid commercial license,” Vittone said.
Burgreyev, who also faces numerous traffic violations, remains in the Washington County jail on $1 million dollar bond.
Vittone said a high bond was set because he is not a citizen of the United States and is considered a flight risk.