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Three dead in early morning auto crash, fire chief runs over one hidden in tall grass


     A woman and a child from Maryland and a man from Leland were killed in a multi-vehicle collision north of Tabor City early Tuesday, a North Carolina Highway Patrol news release said.

     One of the three was run over by Tabor City Fire Department Chief Jeff Fowler, who was driving his fire department pick-up truck and responding to assist the Roseland Fire Department on the crash scene.

     Note: This corrects an earlier version that did not correctly identify the vehicle the fire chief was driving.

     Pronounced dead on the scene of the 4 a.m. crash on NC 410 just north of New Horizon Baptist Church were Deborah Jane Montouri, 58 and Lacey Wilson, 8, both of Frederick, Maryland; and Eric Lavon Freeman Sr., 45, of Leland, the First Sgt. Michael D. Baker reported.

     Montouri “was lying on the shoulder in knee-high grass,” Baker said. “Investigators are working with the Medical Examiner’s office to determine the actual cause of death for Ms. Montouri before deciding upon charges.”

     Fowler was shaken deeply, Tabor City Town Manager Al Leonard said, provided a statement to the highway patrol, and stayed on the scene for hours because he believed it to be his duty as chief.


     McDonald was charged Tuesday with one count of misdemeanor death by motor vehicle, Baker said, and the crash investigation is ongoing.

     Montouri and Wilson were passengers in a Nissan Armada driven by Steven Wayne McDonald of Frederick Maryland, the SUV traveling south on NC 410 “when it crossed the center line, striking a utility trailer being towed by a Dodge pickup truck traveling north,” Baker wrote.

     Timothy Matte, 53, of New Hampshire was alone in the Dodge truck.

     After the first impact the Armada continued into the northbound lane, striking a Nissan Maxima driven by Freeman head-on, both Nissan’s coming to rest in the roadway.

     That was followed by a secondary crash, when a northbound Ford Fusion driven by Verner Bingman, 65, of Ohio,  stuck both Nissans.

     Bingman was uninjured in the crash, and “walked away,” Roseland Fire Department Chief Len Fipps said.

     Other occupants of the SUV were Courtney Fussel, and Stephanie McDonald, both 26 and from Frederick Maryland.

     Two seriously injured people were flown by helicopter to the trauma center at Grand Strand Regional Medical Center in Myrtle Beach, Fipps said, one was taken by ambulance to McLeod Loris hospital.

     Firefighters from the Roseland and Tabor City fire departments worked the crash scene, diverting traffic for hours as NC 410 was closed down. It would not re-open until about 10:30 a.m., Fipps said.

     “Those guys from Tabor City worked as hard as we did,” Fipps said. “They set up the landing zone, got those helicopters on the ground.”

     Ambulances from Tabor City Emergency Services, Chadbourn-Klondyke Fire Rescue and Whiteville Rescue Unit also responded, Fipps said.