Steele man killed in crash on I-55 near Memphis

Published: Jun. 22, 2011 at 1:29 PM CDT|Updated: Jun. 22, 2011 at 1:52 PM CDT
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The accident caused a major traffic backup. (Source: TDOT Smartway)
The accident caused a major traffic backup. (Source: TDOT Smartway)
View of the scene from Chopper 5.
View of the scene from Chopper 5.

(WMC-TV) - Authorities are trying to determine the chain of events that led to an accident that killed a TDOT worker and another man Monday on I-55 in eastern Arkansas.

Two people, including a Tennessee Department of Transportation worker, were killed Monday in the crash along the southbound side of I-55 in Arkansas just before the Mississippi River bridge.

Authorities said crash happened around 1 p.m. on I-55 south in Arkansas, which heads east, near the Mississippi River bridge.

Robert Nowicki's damaged TDOT HELP truck was finally towed from the side of Interstate 55 some five hours after the former NYPD officer was killed in the line of duty.

"Chance of this happening is like lightning striking," said witness Jimmy Stuckey.  "But it will happen," he said.

Stuckey arrived on the scene as Nowicki's body was removed along with the body of the man who was behind the wheel of a red semi.

We're told he crashed into a parked big rig Nowicki was helping before striking the TDOT worker.

"He hit the TDOT truck and he hit the truck that was broke," said Stuckey.

Rice that was being hauled by one of the trucks spilled all over the interstate.  The wreckage blocked southbound lanes of I-55 on the Arkansas side of the old bridge.

TDOT officials said this wreck was further evidence of how dangerous the work of their employees can be.

"And they take that chance everyday being out there to help everyone else," said TDOT spokesperson Nichole Lawrence.

Tuesday, a privately contracted accident reconstruction team from Dallas, Texas spent the morning collecting data and information about the crash.

Investigators are trying to determine why the HELP truck was parked in front of the disabled tractor trailer, instead of behind, where its emergency lights would have been visible.

Nowicki joined the Tennessee Department of Transportation in 2006 and was recognized two years ago for helping deliver a baby along the highway. He was a retired New York City police officer and 9/11 first responder who left behind a wife and four children.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Robert Nowicki and our hearts and prayers are with his family," TDOT Commissioner John Schroer said in a statement.

"He was such a good guy, so good at what he did," Lawrence added.

TDOT HELP trucks routinely work the interstates in West Memphis along with freeways in Tennessee's major cities.

Arkansas State Police identified the truck driver as Tony Davis, of Steele, Missouri, an employee of Ellis Transports of Blytheville.  

The trucker who was being helped by Robert Nowicki survived by jumping over the concrete median.

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