The Montana Highway Patrol said roads were clear on the day a family of four died in a car crash along Interstate 94 near Billings, Montana.
Air Force Staff Sgt. Anthony James Dean, his wife, Chelsi Dean, and their two young daughters perished in a car crash on Thanksgiving Day. They were reported missing the same day, according to reports.
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The crash scene wasn’t discovered until the next day. Their SUV reportedly strayed off I-94 and hit the median, went off a bridge, and then plunged into a creek, officials said.
Montana Highway Patrol Cpt. Keith Edgell told ABC Fox Montana that he suspects the driver of the vehicle fell asleep at the wheel before crashing. He said that weather or road conditions were likely not a factor in the accident.
“There was no ice, there’s no snow, there’s nothing,” Edgell told the news outlet. “Matter of fact, we had a sergeant who had traversed that road earlier that day going to Miles City for the holiday, and he said there were no issues with the roads when he left.”
All four people inside the car died at the scene, the Montana Highway Patrol said. They added that they believe speed may have also been a factor in the crash, reported the Montana Standard publication.
Antony Dean was assigned to the 69th Maintenance Squadron at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota. And Chelsi Dean was a member of the Manvel Fire Department in North Dakota, according to reports.
“Words are not enough during a time like this,” Maj. Eric Inkenbrandt, 69th Maintenance Squadron commander, told Fox News. “AJ’s family brought a light to our maintenance community, and this loss strikes each of us deeply. May their friends and family be granted the strength and serenity to get through this sorrowful time.”
The Dean family was driving from a relative’s home in Caldwell, Idaho, to Ekalaka, Montana, when they went missing. The two towns are about 260 miles apart.
“Mom and Grandma heart is broken into a billion pieces,” Anthony Dean’s mother wrote on Facebook, the Pioneer Press reported. “My poor babies,” she wrote. “I hope they didn’t suffer.”
The family is originally from Caldwell, Idaho, and they moved to the Manvel base when Anthony Dean was reassigned there. He worked as an RQ-4 Global Hawk crew chief, the Herald reported.
A GoFundMe was set up for the family’s funeral. “We lost a wonderful family for beautiful souls hearts we’re soaking from our families way too soon,” a family member wrote.
Traffic Deaths Down Across US
U.S. traffic deaths fell 3.1 percent in the first six months of 2018, according to preliminary figures released in October 2018, Reuters reported.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration said that 2017 traffic deaths fell by 1.8 percent to 37,133 after traffic deaths rose sharply in the previous two years, according to final figures.
The U.S. traffic fatality rate fell to 1.08 deaths per 100 million miles traveled for the first half of 2018.
The fatality rate in 2017 was 1.16 million deaths per 100 million miles traveled—the second highest rate since 2008.
Reuters contributed to this article.