UPDATED at 4:35 p.m. Wednesday with statement from striping company.
FAIRVIEW HEIGHTS • A car plowed through a construction zone Tuesday as work crews prepared to paint new stripes along Interstate 64 just east of Route 159, killing a worker and seriously injuring three of his colleagues.
One of those colleagues remained in critical condition Wednesday morning at St. Louis University Hospital.
The driver of the black Honda that hit the workers was also seriously hurt. Police identified the driver as Michael J. Jeter, 34, of West Frankfort, Ill. He was in serious condition Wednesday at Belleville Memorial Hospital.
The crash happened as the summer construction season is heating up, with workers ramping up the ritual of repairing busy roads and states gearing up to remind drivers about safe driving through work zones.
Police on Tuesday afternoon did not what know what caused the crash, but a motorist who witnessed the collision and spoke to the driver of the Honda said the man was driving erratically and appeared confused after the crash. Investigators said they planned to test the driver for drug and alcohol impairment.
The eastbound Honda rear-ended a striping machine that had three workers standing atop a cushioned construction barrier on the back. The car also hit a flatbed truck and the passenger door of a navy blue pickup parked along the inside shoulder of the highway.
The Honda’s mangled frame ended up in the outside shoulder of the highway after crossing all lanes of traffic and spinning around facing west.
Dennis J. Beard, 38, of Pocahontas died at St. Louis University Hospital about an hour after the 9:30 a.m. crash.
Beard had been on the striping vehicle. The two other workers who were on that vehicle were taken to St. Louis University Hospital. On Wednesday afternoon, a hospital spokeswoman said Brian Moore, 40, of Hoyleton, Ill., had been upgraded to serious condition from critical; and Adams Evans, 32, of Pocahontas, was in serious condition.
A fourth worker, Kory Links, 39, of Pocahontas, who was near the striping machine was also hurt and taken to Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Links was in satisfactory condition Wednesday evening, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Briteway's president, Tricia Rehkemper, posted statement Wednesday saying the company is suspending road projects for the next two weeks "as we deal with this terrible tragedy." Rehkemper also said it set up bank accounts for the four workers for those wishing to donate. The Josie Beard, Adam Evans, Kory Links and Brian Moore Benefit Funds are at Bradford National Bank in Highland.
Rick Urban, an aerospace engineer who was on his way to MidAmerica Airport, said he saw the Honda’s driver swerving in and out of the center median and the shoulder as he and that vehicle were eastbound on I-64.
Urban said the Honda steered suddenly around construction signs and weaved through heavy traffic at irregular speeds, eventually slamming into the back of the construction truck at what Urban thought to be 50 or 60 mph.
Urban, 54, of St. Peters, said the car’s impact with the construction truck, which was stopped on the inside shoulder, sent workers flying into the air.
"It was kind of traumatic. This guy was all over the road, and there was a problem," Urban said. "It looked really bad, and it seemed like someone might be gone, and unfortunately that was the case."
Urban said he talked to the Honda’s driver after the collision and the man was in a daze and confused about his location. Other motorists helped the injured men, and emergency workers were quickly on the scene.
"It was a very bad situation," Urban said.
The crash was near the line between Fairview Heights and O’Fallon, shutting down the eastbound lanes of I-64 for about five hours. Traffic in those lanes was backed up for miles, and some cars were forced to turn around, heading back west in the eastbound lanes.
The workers were employees of Briteway Striping Services of New Baden, hired by the Illinois Department of Transportation to paint new stripes along the highway.
Beard’s relatives declined to comment Tuesday.
The crash comes toward the start of the road construction season, as states across the country target speeders and distracted drivers in work zones. Some states have passed laws aimed at punishing careless driving in work zones and are launching aggressive public-awareness campaigns.
Drivers caught speeding through Illinois work zones face a minimum fine of $375 for the first offense and at least $1,000 for the second offense. Drivers in Illinois are prohibited from talking on cellphones while passing through a highway construction zone in which speeds have been reduced.
In Missouri, motorists face fines of up to $10,000 and a one-year loss of license for killing or injuring a highway worker. Drivers convicted of multiple moving violations in work zones face even bigger fines.
In addition, "we do a lot of research on how to make work zones more visible and how to make sure we use signage properly so people know what is coming up," said DeAnne Rickabaugh of the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Illinois averages more than 7,000 work zone accidents involving motor vehicles each year, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation. Last year, 24 people were killed in work zone crashes.
From 2007 to 2011, MoDOT reported that 57 people were killed and 3,812 were injured in Missouri work zones.
Ken Leiser, Kim Bell and Marlon A. Walker of the Post-Dispatch contributed to this report.
EDITOR'S NOTE: This version includes the correct age of Dennis J. Beard. Authorities on Tuesday said he was 48. The Illinois State Police on Wednesday confirmed that he was 38.