A Tennessee man has been charged with 11 crimes, including six felonies, in relation to the car crash that killed five Arkansans in Wyoming on Sunday night.
Arthur Andrew Nelson, 57, of Limestone, Tenn., was charged Wednesday when he made his first appearance in the Carbon County (Wyo.) Circuit Court.
Five of the felony charges against Nelson are for aggravated homicide by vehicle due to driving under the influence, one for each of the five Arkansans killed. A sixth felony charge is for a DUI with serious bodily injury.
Nelson was also charged with five misdemeanors, including two counts of reckless endangerment — one involving a FedEx truck driver and one involving three people in a passenger car. The other three charges are reckless driving, driving the wrong way on a divided highway, and driving under a suspended license.
The five people killed in crash were friends connected to Sylvan Hills High School in Sherwood as well as Faith Bible Fellowship Church in North Little Rock.
Two of them — Susana “Suzy” Prime, 18, and Ava Luplow, 18 — were current students at the high school. The other three were former students: Andrea Prime, 23; Salomon Correa, 21; and Maggie Franco, 20.
The group of five were on their way back to Arkansas after visiting Jackson Hole (Wyo.) Bible College.
The ensuing accident was the deadliest car crash in Wyoming since at least 2019, according to data available from the state’s Department of Transportation.
According to charging documents, the multi-car crash happened at mile marker 219 on Interstate 80 east of Rawlins, Wyo., which is roughly 280 miles southeast of Jackson Hole and about 40 miles north of the Wyoming-Colorado border.
At 6:52 p.m Sunday, the Wyoming Highway Patrol was notified of a vehicle driving the wrong way on I-80. Six minutes later, they received a report of the ensuing crash.
Based on the highway patrol’s preliminary investigation, the vehicle driving in the wrong direction was a Ram 3500 pickup registered to Nelson in West Jordan, Utah. The pickup collided with a FedEx truck and an Infiniti SUV.
The driver of an MS Freight truck attempted to avoid the pickup-SUV collision by swerving across the median and into the eastbound lanes. The preliminary report states that it was the vehicle that collided head-on with the Ford F-150 occupied by the group from Arkansas.
According to the highway patrol, the MS Freight truck slowly caught fire, while the Ford F-150 was immediately engulfed in flames.
One of the Arkansans, Ava Luplow, had been ejected from the truck. She was the first victim identified by authorities.
Nelson told troopers at the scene that he had been on his way to Tennessee from Utah. Police later determined that Nelson had been driving under a suspended license due to a previous DUI.
After being taken to a local hospital, Nelson told troopers that he had taken methamphetamine the day before. When a trooper told Nelson he should not have been driving, Nelson reportedly responded, “That’s a lesson to be learned.”
Nelson is being held in lieu of $500,000 bond. He has a probable cause hearing scheduled at 3:30 p.m. local time Feb. 1. If probable cause is found, the case will then go to district court for final disposition.
According to the charging documents, the maximum sentence for felony aggravated homicide by vehicle is 20 years or a fine of $10,000. The maximum for a DUI with a controlled substance with serious bodily injury is 10 years and a fine between $2,000 and $5,000.
In an interview with the Wyoming newspaper Cowboy State Daily, Phil Prime, the father of Suzy and Andrea Prime, said one of his daughters had a feature on her phone that would send out an alert if she were in a suspected car crash.
Prime received that alert on his iPhone Sunday night.
The alert “was all the information we had for about six hours or so,” Prime said. “That was it, until we got confirmation from the police.”
Prime said he has forgiven Nelson for what police say was the beginning of the chain of events that killed his daughters.
“I would love to have five minutes with him, to share the gospel, to tell him I forgive him,” Prime said. “I could wish him the worst, but he’s already going to get that. What can I say or do to that person that would actually help me or my family? Nothing. I’m not going to cry for 100 years in jail. That’s not going to do anything for my kids.”
The Prime sisters had both worked at The Humble Crumb Bakery in Sherwood. The bakery announced on its Facebook page Tuesday that it would close for two weeks “while we process, remember, praise, rebuild, and rest.”
“Our lives are forever changed and the bakery will continually feel this void,” the post added. “Our small team lost two of our own, two of our gems, on Sunday.”
Faith Bible Fellowship Church on Tuesday announced a combined funeral service for the crash victims at 10 a.m. Feb. 4 at the Sylvan Hills High School Performing Arts Center.
The visitation will be held from 5-7 p.m. Feb. 3 at the church.