Driver, 24, dies, Arkansas trooper injured in head-on I-40 crash

Fort Smith motorist heading wrong way on Interstate 40

A motorist died Monday when the car he was driving the wrong way on Interstate 40 near Alma crashed head-on into an Arkansas State Police cruiser.

Matthew C. Choate, 24, of Fort Smith died in the collision, according to an accident summary from the state police.

Trooper First Class Roy Moomey, 41, of Van Buren was injured in the crash. He was transported to Sparks Regional Medical Center in Fort Smith and was in serious but stable condition Monday, according to a news release from the state police.

Police received a call at about 3:35 a.m. Monday about a vehicle traveling westbound in the eastbound lanes of traffic in Crawford County.

"Trooper Moomey was dispatched to the area, where his patrol car was struck by the vehicle being driven in the wrong direction," according to the news release.

According to the accident summary, Choate was driving a 2012 Ford, and Moomey was driving a 2014 Dodge. Road conditions were dry and the weather was clear at the time of the accident.

When asked if Moomey had turned his police cruiser into the path of the Ford to stop it, Bill Sadler, a spokesman for the state police, said, "That information has not been validated as accurate."

He said the crash was still under investigation Monday.

Marc McCune, a Crawford County prosecutor, posted on his Facebook page about 10 a.m. Monday: "Prayers needed for Trooper Roy Moomey. He was hit head on by a drunk driver this morning. ... Roy put his life on the line to save others on the interstate. The drunk driver was killed in the accident."

Sadler said toxicology tests hadn't been completed as of Monday afternoon, and the state police had no evidence from the state Crime Laboratory at that point to indicate Choate was intoxicated at the time of the crash.

"My understanding is that he was intoxicated," McCune said in an email late Monday. "They are getting blood work done to get official results."

A subsequent Facebook post by McCune read: "Update on Roy: He has two broken legs (one is his femur), broken ankle, broken pelvis, ribs, punctured lung. He is intubated so he is not talking, but in good spirits. They have not done any surgery yet, but prognosis is that he will make a full recovery, but a very long recovery. Please keep praying for Roy and his family. For those that don't know him, he is a great guy and Trooper. He and his family need our support."

Late Monday, McCune said Moomey also had a broken wrist and some fractured vertebrae.

Moomey has been employed by the state police for six years, and is the son of a Little Rock police detective.

Previously of Maumelle, Moomey is a graduate of Catholic High School in Little Rock and the University of Mississippi, according to an earlier news release from the state police. In 2009, he was assigned to work the Highway Patrol Division for Troop H in Crawford County.

In May, Moomey received a life-saving award from the state police for pulling a man from a burning pickup Jan. 22, 2015. The vehicle had run off Interstate 49.

"The driver was trapped inside the cab of a pickup truck and fire had begun to engulf the dashboard," Sadler said. "The driver door was pinned against several trees, however TFC Moomey was able to move to the passenger side of the truck and pull the injured Oklahoma man from the truck before it was engulfed by fire."

Another fatality concerning a driver going the wrong way on an Arkansas interstate occurred June 1.

Two people died in a fiery head-on collision early that morning on the Interstate 430 bridge over the Arkansas River in Little Rock.

Gary DiGiuseppe, 60, of Maumelle, was driving a 2005 Ford south over the bridge at 3:49 a.m. when a 1998 Buick traveling in the wrong direction crashed into his vehicle head-on, according to state police. The Buick then caught fire.

DiGiuseppe and the Buick driver, Felecia Stevenson, 28, of Little Rock, were both pronounced dead at the scene.

DiGiuseppe was driving to work at KARN-FM, 102.9, in Little Rock when the crash occurred, the radio station said in a statement. He was a morning newscaster on First News with Kevin Miller and had produced daily newscasts for the Arkansas Radio Network for years.

Sadler said the June 1 crash is still under a criminal investigation.

Arkansas highway officials have initiated systemwide improvements at an estimated cost of $2.8 million with a focus on reducing wrong-way crashes on the state freeway system.

The effort is designed to address the problem of motorists entering freeways in the wrong direction.

An analysis of crashes covering 2009-13 that was performed by the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department found 64 crashes of vehicles going the wrong way, including 13 that resulted in 20 people killed. Another 25 crashes involved serious injury, according to the analysis.

Seventy percent of the crashes occurred at night and 60 percent involved an impaired driver, the analysis found.

In the years covered by the analysis, an average of four fatalities occurred annually as a result of wrong-way crashes. But in 2015, eight people died as a result of wrong-way crashes, according to department data.

Metro on 08/09/2016