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Three Family Members Dead in Secondary Accident on I-69

Steve Wagner

Four family members were driving home to Newburgh from the Bands of America Grand National Championships in Indianapolis when a terrible tragedy occurred on I-69. David, Ruth, Sophie, and Josie Rinehart were southbound on I-69 on November 13 when their vehicle struck a deer. The family pulled over to the side of the road to wait for police assistance, but by the time an officer responded to the scene, a deadly secondary crash had taken place. The pickup truck of 19-year-old Mason William Hartke had left the road and struck the Rinehart’s vehicle, killing David Rinehart, 46, Ruth Rinehart, 74, and Sophie Rinehart, 17. 18-year-old Josie Rinehart was taken to IU Health Bloomington Hospital for treatment of minor injuries. Mason William Hartke was taken to the hospital with an arm fracture.

Fatal Storm of Accident Factors

The loss of these three family members truly is the result of a terrible set of circumstances. First, the Rinehart family accident began with a deer-vehicle collision (DVC). Deer-vehicle collisions are incredibly common this time of year, as deer are in active mating season and tend to be more present around roadways. These seemingly adorable creatures actually pose quite a significant threat to humans, with DVCs killing nearly 200 people each year and injuring thousands.

Once the family’s vehicle hit the deer, they pulled their damaged vehicle over and waited for police assistance. Both of those steps (pulling over, waiting for police) are exactly the right things to do in such an instance. Unfortunately in this case, a secondary accident occurred when Mason William Hartke left the road, driving onto the shoulder and hitting the Rinehart’s car while the family was still inside.

Secondary accidents are those that occur inside the scene of another accident or within the traffic buildup or queue caused by an initial accident. Though not all states track secondary accidents in a systemic fashion, some states have found secondary crashes to account for more than 20% of all statewide vehicle accidents.

Nov. 22 Update: Though initially investigators did not know why Hartke’s vehicle was driving on the shoulder, we now know the true cause behind this awful crash. Mason William Hartke had been to visit friends at Indiana University, where he had been drinking. The Greene Country prosecutor has now charged Hartke with three counts of operating a vehicle while intoxicated causing death and three counts of reckless homicide. Investigators found no evidence of an attempt by Hartke to slow or stop his vehicle in the Rinehart family accident, and Hartke claimed he believed he fell asleep behind the wheel. At the end of the day, this heartbreaking accident was caused by an underage drunk driver who failed to consider others when he got into his vehicle on November 13.

If you or someone you love has been injured in a deer-vehicle collision, a secondary accident, or an accident caused by a drunk driver, call the vehicular accident attorneys at Wagner Reese today: (888) 204-8440. We have a long history of helping clients recover damages regardless of whether they were involved in car, truck, bicycle, or pedestrian accidents. Your initial consultation will be 100% FREE, and you will not pay any fees unless your case is settled or won.

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