A team of unnamed good Samaritans are being credited as heroes by the Illinois State Police after an eight-vehicle accident Friday afternoon on Interstate 24 near the I-57 split in Johnson County.
According to a news release from the ISP, the accident involved seven passenger cars and a 2016 Peterbilt tractor-trailer, all traveling westbound on I-24 around noon.
The passenger cars were either stopped or traveling very slowly due to a construction-related traffic buildup. The driver of the Peterbilt, 37-year-old Nathan A. Fast of Byron, Minn., reportedly told police he thought he had fallen asleep, causing the tractor-trailer to strike the rear of a 2006 Toyota Corolla without slowing.
A chain-reaction crash followed, in which the Peterbilt, a GMC 3500 pulling a trailer and a 2016 Toyota 4Runner all caught fire and were declared a total loss. Dramatic video of the scene posted to Facebook showed the vehicles sandwiched together with clouds of heavy black smoke billowing into the sky.
A passenger in the Corolla, 52-year-old Barbara J. Francis of Paris, Mo., was extricated from the wreckage after a team of good Samaritans pushed the Corolla away from the burning vehicles.
She was airlifted from the scene with major, but non-life threatening injuries.
The good Samaritans also pulled all seven occupants of the burning cars out of the wreckage, saving their lives. In total, 19 people - none from Illinois - from six states were involved in the accident that closed the westbound lanes of I-24 for five hours for crash investigation and cleanup.
The eastbound lanes were also closed for an hour to land the medical helicopter.
Of the 14 reported injuries, only a passenger in the GMC, 57-year-old Peter D. Karmar of Sweetwater, Tenn., was majorly hurt other than Francis.
Fast was cited for failure to reduce speed to avoid a crash and driving while fatigued. He and an 11-year-old juvenile passenger were uninjured.
Four other juveniles involved in the accident suffered minor injuries.