Metro-East News

Police twice search semi in quadruple-fatal I-55 crash, but don’t find trucker’s phone

Candelight vigil for young women killed in I-55 pileup

Taylor Mitchell speaks at a vigil for Hailey and Madisen Bertels, and Tori Carroll, who were killed in a pileup on Interstate 55 near Hamel. Rev. Debbie Jo Atkins also recites a poem. The vigil took place at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Sta
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Taylor Mitchell speaks at a vigil for Hailey and Madisen Bertels, and Tori Carroll, who were killed in a pileup on Interstate 55 near Hamel. Rev. Debbie Jo Atkins also recites a poem. The vigil took place at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Sta

Illinois State Police troopers investigating a highway crash that killed four, including two sisters from Staunton, obtained warrants to search the tractor-trailer involved but have not located the truck driver’s cell phone.

Investigators searched the semi twice — on Nov. 30 and on Tuesday — but did not find the trucker’s phone, according to documents obtained by the News-Democrat.

ISP Special Agent Derek Weh applied for a search warrant Monday to search the 2016 Freightliner driven by Mohamed Yussuf Jama, 53, of Greeley, Colorado. No citations have been issued against Jama, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

In the affidavit, Weh stated that Jama initially did not give a statement about what caused the crash.

A passenger in the semi, Ahmed Mahdi Hussein, reported being asleep at the time of the crash. Hussein, 38, told police he knew Jama had a cell phone, but no phone was found on Jama at the accident scene or at the hospital, Weh’s affidavit stated.

Staunton school officials talk about the tragedy, and how they are helping students and community heal after the death of two of their own.

Police tried calling a phone number that Hussein provided for Jama, but the phone was no longer receiving calls.

Weh’s affidavit stated that investigators first searched the truck, with a warrant, on Nov. 30, but “no cellular phone was located during the search.”

On Friday, Jama was interviewed by ISP investigators, and he confirmed that he had a cell phone at the time of the crash. He told investigators the phone was in a cubbyhole in the truck’s dashboard. He told police that he did not see his phone after the accident, and the last time he saw his phone, it was in the passenger compartment of the semi.

Police obtained a second search warrant, and searched the truck again Tuesday, but documents filed by police indicate nothing was taken from the truck as a result of the second search.

Ahmed was interviewed by police again Friday. He told them the paper travel logs they were required to keep were located in a compartment above the driver’s head. In the second application for a search warrant, police obtained permission to seize those types of records, along with electronic engine control modules, from the truck.

The detective’s affidavit states that Jama had an attorney present during his interview Friday.

The crash was captured on video by a camera mounted in a tractor-trailer that was not involved in the crash. That video, captured from behind the crash, shows that Jama’s truck “crashed into multiple passenger vehicles in front of it without braking,” according to the detective’s affidavit.

Jama’s 2016 Freightliner Cascadia crashed into several cars on Interstate 55, killing four young women Nov. 21.

Illinois State Police Trooper Calvin Dye Jr. has said Jama made “no attempt to stop” before crashing into seven vehicles in front of him, which were slowed or stopped in a construction zone.

Illinois State Police say eight vehicles were involved in the crash, which occurred at about 6:15 p.m. on the southbound side of the interstate at milepost 27, just south of Hamel. The accident killed four people and injured another 12.

Bartels Sisters
Hailey Bertels (left) and sister Madisen Bertels (right) Provided

The four people who died in the crash:

▪  Hailey J. Bertels, 20, and her 17-year-old sister, Madisen N. Bertels, both of Staunton, died at the scene of the crash. Their Kia was the first car to be hit by the semi.

Madisen was a senior at Staunton High School, and her sister was a 2015 graduate. Hailey was a junior at Murray State University studying communication disorders.

There was a public memorial service for the Bertels sisters Saturday in the Staunton High School gym.

Tori Carroll Provided

▪  Tori Carroll, of Alhambra, was also a 2015 Staunton High School graduate. The 20-year-old died from her injuries at Saint Louis University Medical Center on Nov. 30.

Carroll’s visitation is scheduled from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at Zion Lutheran Church in Staunton. Her memorial services are at noon Sunday.

Carroll was a student at Northern Kentucky University’s Chase School of Law. She was a passenger in the Bertels’ vehicle.

▪  Vivian Vu, of Joplin, Missouri, died on Thanksgiving after also suffering injuries in the crash.

The 19-year-old was a sophomore at Missouri Southern State University and a 2016 graduate from Joplin High School.

Vu’s memorial service was Nov. 28 at the Congregation of the Mother Co-Redemptrix church in Carthage, Missouri.