Local trucker, mom and sons among 5 killed in I-65 crash

(LAFAYETTE, Ind.) A northwest suburban trucker was among five people killed when he failed to slow for traffic in a central Indiana construction zone, causing a fiery chain-reaction crash that closed I-65 for hours.

The crash happened about 11:55 p.m. Thursday in the southbound lanes of I-65 near Lafayette, Ind., according to Indiana State Police.

The fatal chain of events started when a 2006 Volvo semi truck, owned by RJO Express of Elmwood Park, and driven by 55-year-old Bogufalw Leja of Elmwood Park, was southbound on I-65 when it slowed for construction traffic near mile marker 178, a statement from ISP said.

Immediately behind the semi, which was carrying a load of frozen chicken wings, was a 2012 Honda Pilot driven by Jill Buck, 47 of Greenwood, Ind., and following her was a 2009 Toyota Yaris driven by Mikhail Yuryevich Stepanov, 41, of Lafayette, Ind.

At that point, a 2015 Volvo semi tanker driven by Pankiv Ruslan, 34, of Lake Zurich, “failed to slow for traffic and ran into the rear of the Toyota, pushing it off the roadway to the right and into the ditch,” according to police.

The impact killed Stepanov and injured a female passenger.

Ruslan’s tanker, which was filled with cooking oil, then ran into the rear of the Honda, spinning it into the median; and the tanker then ran into the rear of the semi trailer. The tanker “then caught fire and the Honda Pilot spun into the two semis and also caught fire,” ISP said, with all three vehicles stopping in the right lane.

By the time police and fire crews arrived, both the tanker, the Honda Pilot and the rear of the trailer were fully engulfed in flames, ISP said.

The occupants of the Pilot — Buck and her sons, 8-year-old A.J. and 10-year-old Branson, all of Center Grove, Ind. — were dead at the scene. Rusla, who was driving for TXM Inc. out of Lockport, also died in the fire, police said.

Three other vehicles were involved in the crash, but sustained only minimal damage.

Southbound I-65 remained closed for nearly 12 hours, reopening just before noon Friday, while the northbound lanes were reopened about 6:30 a.m.