RALEIGH — Two men who stopped to help a trucker stranded in the snow along Interstate 40 were killed Thursday night by a hit-and-run driver who was found about an hour later hiding in the woods, according to state authorities.
Marshall Hudson Doran, a 21-year-old UNC-Wilmington student from Kure Beach, was charged with two counts of felony death by motor vehicle, along with impaired-driving and drug charges.
The fatal collision occurred after a tractor cab of a tractor-trailer driven by Cardell Gayfield of Clayton hit a patch of fresh snow and spun out of control, stopping perpendicular to the westbound lanes of I-40 near the U.S. 70 Bypass at about 8 p.m.
“So I get out, and I put down the reflective triangles,” Gayfield said Friday. “People were squeezing by – a couple skidded out into the snow and regained control.”
Gayfield tried to move his truck to safety, but two cars soon swerved off the right side of the highway to avoid him. Nathaniel Williams, 34, of Hope Mills climbed from his car up the embankment to the stopped tractor-trailer. Larry Kepley, 39, of Winston-Salem parked his own tractor-trailer on the westbound side of the highway and got out to help.
“The guy in the truck, he got out and asked if I was all right,” Gayfield said. Eventually, with some guidance from the two men, Gayfield got his truck’s wheels spinning and drove toward the side of the road, he said.
As he was moving, he said, he spotted a car flashing by at a speed he estimated to be 60 mph. As the car passed, Gayfield saw a roadside sign “wavering” as if a car had struck it but didn’t realize the two men who were helping him had been hit.
Gayfield saw Kepley’s body first, he said, with glasses and a shoe knocked off.
‘It’s a sad thing’
“I didn’t realize that that was the good Samaritan, that got off the truck that helped me,” Gayfield said. “It’s sad, it’s a sad thing. Here’s somebody who didn't know me, and yet cared enough … to offer his assistance. You don’t find that a lot nowadays.”
It’s unclear where Williams and Kepley were standing, or what they were doing, when they were struck by the 2001 Volvo as it passed Gayfield’s cab and then drove off, according to the Department of Public Safety.
Emergency responders in cars and a helicopter began to hunt for the Volvo’s driver. Authorities say they found Doran hiding in a wooded area some 10 miles away, near Trailwood Drive and Lineberry Drive, just east of the Gorman Street exit in Raleigh.
Doran eventually emerged from the woods and was arrested by a Wake County sheriff’s deputy around 9 p.m., according to state authorities.
He initially was charged with second-degree murder, but those charges were reduced to two counts of felony death by motor vehicle during a Friday afternoon court hearing. The difference between the charges is the absence of suspected malice on the part of the suspect, according to Doug Kinsbery, an attorney representing Doran.
Kepley, who died on the scene, had driven trucks and delivered industrial laundry and dry-cleaning supplies for three years, according to Ken Farrington, an owner of NS Farrington, an industrial laundry supply company.
“He just has a real heart for people, and he's always going out of his way,” Farrington said. “I’m just not surprised that he would stop along the side of the road to help someone.”
Mike Kepley had last spoken to his younger brother on Wednesday, as he worked his way through a delivery route. He said his brother was on his way to Raleigh, where he planned to sleep before heading home to his wife in Winston-Salem, according to his brother.
“He would go out of his way to try to help somebody in need, and last night it cost him his life,” said Mike Kepley.
Williams, who was carrying U.S. Navy identification, died later at the hospital.
Doran can’t think of much else but the death of the two men and the effect on their families, attorney Roger Smith Jr. said. “Frankly, he’s devastated for the two men,” Smith said.
Doran also was charged with felony hit-and-run causing death; reckless driving with wanton disregard for others; misdemeanor driving while impaired; possession of a Schedule 2 drug, the category that includes cocaine; and misdemeanor resisting arrest. The attorneys said that the full picture of the case hadn’t emerged and that they weren’t sure yet of all the details.
Doran, of 740 N. Fort Fisher Blvd. in Kure Beach, attends UNC-Wilmington, according to a student directory and a man who said he worked with Doran.
“Marshall is an outstanding person – I'm lucky enough to call him a friend,” said Tyler Switzer, manager of Pleasure Island Rentals in Carolina Beach. “I’ve tried getting a hold of his family and friends. They’re in my prayers – everyone involved.”
Driving record offers insight
Doran’s criminal record includes a charge of speeding last year, which resulted in a verdict of improper equipment; a 2009 charge of reckless driving that resulted in a verdict of improper equipment; and a 2008 larceny charge and misdemeanor paraphernalia and marijuana charges from three dates in 2009 that were all dismissed.
Switzer said he has not seen Doran use or abuse drugs, or drive while impaired. Switzer said Doran, who grew up in Carolina Beach, is typically eager to help others and had volunteered at the last minute to work without pay at a military benefit.
“This is completely out of character – a mistake was made, and I know it cost two people’s lives,” he said, adding that he would leave the question of Doran’s potential guilt to a judge.
Authorities originally set Doran’s bail at $5 million, but reduced it to $500,000 bail after the court appearance Friday afternoon.
Staff writer Ron Gallagher contributed to this report