Carnage on Interstate 29 Monday DSU professor killed, USD student seriously injured Interstate 29 was aglow with the warning lights of rescue and law enforcement vehicles Monday night following a head-on collision that killed a Dakota State University professor and seriously injured a USD student. by David Lias A bizarre incident on Interstate 29 north of Vermillion Monday night killed one motorist, seriously injured a second motorist � a student at The University of South Dakota � and closed the southbound and northbound lanes of I-29 for over an hour.
For reasons that are still unknown, William Henjum, 49, of Bellevue, NE, began traveling the wrong direction on the southbound lanes of the interstate at approximately 9 p.m. Monday.
"What happened is that this individual from Bellevue, NE was apparently about eight or nine miles south of where the fatality accident happened, and struck a truck in the back and then a car, and then ended up getting on the other side of the interstate somehow," said Captain Warren Anderson, district commander of the South Dakota Highway Patrol, Sioux Falls, "and started going down the wrong way on the (southbound lanes of the) interstate for about eight miles, and then struck the student from USD."
The chaos caused by Henjum, who was an assistant professor of speech and theater at Dakota State University in Madison, and his wayward journey came to a tragic end when he collided head-on with a car driven by Barbara Locken, 22, a USD student returning to Vermillion.
Henjum died at the scene. Locken's injuries included a broken hand and broken foot. She is hospitalized in serious condition at a Sioux Falls hospital.
According to news reports, Locken used her cell phone to call her father seconds after the crash and tell him she had just been in a serious accident.
Her phone then went dead, but she was able to call him back minutes later and assure him that she was injured but alive.
Locken told her dad she noticed cars flashing their lights at her minutes before the crash, as if to warn her of something. She thought that warning was about deer crossing the interstate.
Two other USD students � Sara Hayes and Tim Hessel � were driving back to Vermillion in separate automobiles Monday night following the Presidents Day holiday and nearly met the same fate as Locken.
Henjum narrowly missed them both.
"I looked up and saw something coming at me," Hayes said in a news report this week. "I couldn't even tell what it was ? then 20 to 30 yards in front of me, he flipped on his lights and swerved into the right lane, then I had to get back into the left lane because I had a semi right in front of me and I did a 360 into the median."
"Here comes this car with its headlights coming straight for me and I pull right back behind the semi and here comes the car right past me," Hessel said.
"There were some vehicles damaged south of the scene there, and there was the head-on collision at the scene, and then at that site, another vehicle slowed down to go through the accident scene and another one hit the back end of that one and so we ended up having yet another separate accident there," Anderson said. "Luckily there were only some minor injuries suffered by the people in those vehicles.
"There were three different accidents caused, basically, by the same individual," he said.
It appears that Henjum struck the back of a semi truck and the side of another vehicle at interstate milepost 38, which is about 12 miles north of the Vermillion interchange on the four-lane expressway. That incident, for some reason, may have altered Henjum's route to the southbound lanes where he continued to travel north.
The driver of the semi pulled off the interstate at the Coffee Cup truck stop at the Vermillion exit to report he had been struck by Henjum.
The vehicle that Henjum sideswiped ended up in the interstate median.
The DSU professor collided head-on with Locken near milepost 44, after driving from six to eight miles in the wrong direction on the interstate.
Locken may be alive today because of a rather simple act.
"She was wearing her seat belt," Anderson said. "It would have been a lot worse if she hadn't been buckled up."
Traffic was stopped or re-routed on both the northbound and southbound lanes of the interstate near the fatality scene as crews of rescue and law enforcement personnel, including a rescue squad from Vermillion and two air ambulances from Sioux Falls, responded to the accident.
"Right now, we don't know the contributing factor to the accident," Anderson said. "We don't know if there was alcohol involved, because the tests haven't come back.
"We're also looking into whether there was a medical condition that might have caused this," he said.
Anderson said despite the bizarre nature of Monday's happenings, it's not uncommon for motorists to become confused when traveling on the interstate.
"It happens a lot more than you think it does," he said. "Something may happen � older people may suffer a medical problem, or we occasionally have people under the influence of alcohol or drugs. It's not a rarity, it's somewhat unusual, but when it happens, there's usually a specific reason for it."
Weather and road conditions were not contributing factors that night. Traffic was moving at normal speeds, until the accidents.
"Going down the interstate, you just don't expect that," Hayes said. "It was right in front of me and could have been me."