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Couple married 50 years killed in I-55 head-on crash near Pevely

Couple married 50 years killed in I-55 head-on crash near Pevely

Couple killed in crash in Jefferson County

Rebecca Joyce Byrd and Leonard Wayne Byrd on their 50th wedding anniversary in January 2020. Photo provided by family

JEFFERSON COUNTY — A couple married 50 years died Monday on Interstate 55 when a tractor-trailer rear-ended a vehicle then plowed through a cable barrier and went into oncoming traffic in Jefferson County, the Missouri Highway Patrol said.

Police identified the two who died as Leonard Wayne Byrd, 72, and Rebecca Joyce Byrd, 66, of Ste. Genevieve, Missouri. They were in an SUV that was hit head-on by the tractor-trailer.

The Byrds had renewed their vows in celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary in January, said their granddaughter, Brittany Byrd.

The couple died at the scene of the five-vehicle crash, which occurred about 1:30 p.m. Monday on I-55 north of Highway Z. One of the vehicles was struck by the cable barrier after the truck went through it.

Authorities said the chain-reaction crash began when a northbound 2015 Chevrolet Cruze was traveling slower than the minimum speed limit.

The tractor-trailer, also heading north, came up behind the Cruze. The truck driver applied the brakes but still hit the back of the Cruze, which ran off the right side of the interstate and overturned.

The truck then struck the side of a northbound 2013 Acura TL. The truck, a 1993 Western Star, drove into the median and crashed through the cable barrier, then veered into the southbound lanes and hit the front of a 2020 Kia Telluride that Rebecca Byrd was driving.

The cable barrier hit the left side of a southbound 2015 Nissan Altima.

Missouri began installing guard cable along divided highways in 2002 and currently has more than 800 miles of cable. It costs about $130,000 per mile to install, said Nicole Hood, state highway safety and traffic engineer. Cpl. Dallas Thompson of the Missouri Highway Patrol said the cable barriers are designed to reduce the number of crossover crashes, however, “they aren’t foolproof.”

Hood said, "The cable barrier is catching 95 percent of vehicles that go into the median and keeping them from going into the opposing lane. They are very successful." Hood added that the cable barriers are not meant to stop big trucks; yet there have been instances in Missouri, she said, where it stopped a truck.

The drivers of all five vehicles were wearing seat belts, the patrol said. Leonard Byrd was not, according to the patrol report.

The driver of the Cruze, Jacob Stevenson, 23, of Arnold, suffered moderate injuries. Thompson said the minimum speed limit on the interstate is 40 mph and Stevenson was traveling slower than that because of a medical emergency. The speed limit in that area is 70 mph.

No other motorists were hurt, police said.

State troopers closed the interstate after the crash to investigate.

Brittany Byrd, 26, of Farmington, said her grandparents were returning home from a trip to Minnesota to visit a relative. She talked to her grandmother by cellphone when her grandparents were outside Wentzville.

She later saw a newscast about a bad crash on I-55 and said that a television news helicopter zoomed in close enough so she could make out a handicapped license plate on a vehicle resembling her grandfather’s car. When her grandmother didn’t answer her cellphone, Byrd and others went to the scene and talked to a police officer who broke the news.

Her grandparents went by their middle names, Wayne and Joyce. Wayne Byrd served in the Army and was a Vietnam veteran, then worked at a Chrysler plant and later as a pilot-car driver escorting tractor-trailers hauling oversized loads. They were members of the American Legion and VFW. His wife enjoyed playing bingo and going to the casino.

The Byrds had six children, six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

A highlight was in January when Brittany Byrd planned a surprise 50th wedding anniversary for the couple at a Red Lobster, then they renewed their vows at the American Legion Post 39 in Leadington, Missouri. Wayne Byrd had sensed something fancy was planned because he changed out of his normal attire of jeans and wore a tuxedo that night, his granddaughter said.

Brittany Byrd said the loss of her grandparents has been difficult to accept.

“I’m glad they were together,” she said. “They’ve been together all along and they went together.”

Horton-Wampler Funeral Home is handling the arrangements.

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