Two family members known in local auto racing circles died and two other people were critically injured after two semis crashed Thursday afternoon on southbound Interstate 69 near the 316 mile marker.
A white semi was stopped on the side of the road, being serviced by a local roadside assistance company, when it was struck in the side by a driver hauling an empty car trailer at around 1:15 p.m., said Allen County Sheriff’s Department spokesman Sgt. Jeremy Tinkel.
It was unclear which vehicles the victims were in or near; one person died at the scene and another died later at a hospital. The men who died were identified as Blaine Miller and his grandson Jeff Shelmadine, both of whom had strong ties with Baer Field Speedway. Miller was a championship car owner and Shelmadine a championship driver who raced at the local track.
Baer Field Speedway promoter Jon Raney said he was on the phone with Miller only about 15 minutes before he died; Miller wanted a car ready to race but was having some trouble with its transmission. Raney suggested Miller call one of Raney’s employees, who at that moment was at Parkview Regional Medical Center to have some blood drawn. Perhaps four minutes after that man finished discussing the transmission trouble with Miller, the crash that killed Miller and his grandson happened.
“He didn’t see it, but he heard it,” Raney said of his worker who was at Parkview.
Raney had known Miller for about 30 years. They met through racing, but had a business relationship beyond racing, too. Raney has a trucking business, and Miller and the mechanics in his shop serviced Raney’s vehicles.
Shelmadine was new to his grandfather’s road service business, and at this point, he was breaking in on the ground floor – fixing tires, jumping batteries and so on – but Raney said his grandfather was preparing Shelmadine to take over the business eventually.
“Blaine was a real good-hearted guy, but he had a rough exterior,” Raney said.
“He loved kids. He always had a piece of gum or candy for my boy whenever he saw him,” Raney said.
At the crash scene, traffic headed south was diverted at the Union Chapel Road Exit 317, with that traffic reportedly backed up into DeKalb County on Thursday afternoon.
The first lane of southbound traffic at the crash site was reopened to traffic at about 4 p.m. and a witness saw the white semi being hauled away at 8 p.m.
A fifth person involved in the crash was uninjured. Police shut down the southbound lanes at Union Chapel Road to cut off access to the crash scene at the 316.4 mile marker, which is located by Parkview Regional Medical Center at Dupont Road.