RALEIGH — Former Town of Garner department head Rex Houston Todd was killed in a crash with an alleged drunk driver on Interstate 440 late in the afternoon April 26 which also left his wife and retired Garner town manager Mary Lou Todd seriously injured.
The wreck occurred about 5:15 p.m. in the westbound lanes of I-440 near Jones Franklin Road, just before the exit ramp onto Interstate 40, police reported.
Nearly a dozen motorists stopped their vehicles to help the couple trapped inside of their car and the 21-year-old driver of a pickup truck following the fatal crash.
Police have charged the injured driver of the pickup truck, Jacob Alexander Press of Raleigh, with drunken driving, careless and reckless driving, felony death by motor vehicle and felony serious injury by motor vehicle. Police spokesman Jim Sughrue said investigators had not completed an accident report in part because the crash “was fairly complex.”
Rex Todd, 67, began his career with Garner as community development director in 1984. He served as director of economic development for the last nine years of his career before retiring in 2000. He led early efforts to revitalize downtown and also helped save the old high school building, which now serves as senior residences and houses the Garner Performing Arts Center.
Mary Lou Todd, 66, whose condition upgraded from serious to fair, was hired by the town in 1971 and worked her way up from clerk/cashier to become the first female town manager in Wake County in 2000. She retired in 2007.
The couple had remained active in the community.
A town in shock
News of the wreck rocked a Garner community that had known the Todds as long-time key employees and residents dedicated to improving the town.
“The town is in shock and in particular the town government and the Garner United Methodist Church, where they had strong ties,” mayor Ronnie Williams said. “Rex was a thinker who thought outside the box. Because of that he met some resistance, but also because of that the town is what it is today.”
He called Todd, the town’s first Economic Development Director, a “true visionary.” The Captial Preservation Association granted him a lifetime achievement award for, among other things, the 10-year struggle to save and adaptively reuse the old high school. He and his wife also did a lot of work with their church and worked actively on the efforts to raise money for the YMCA, with his wife serving on the board.
Mary Lou Todd became the first town manager in an unlikely career path, starting from the ground level. She also served as the president of the International Institute of Municipal Clerks in 1999-2000.
“She was great. She was very sharp, very smart. She’s well respected, and one reason is she worked her way up trough the organization,” said assistant town manager Rodney Dickerson who was hired by Todd. “She’s a people person. She’s very caring. She’s a hugger, if you see her she’s probably going to give you a hug.”
“Across four lanes of traffic”
Authorities on Monday made public a 911 recording emergency dispatchers received immediately after the accident.
A woman who called 911 an emergency dispatcher there had been “a horrible accident” involving two vehicles that collided and then skidded off the side of the road and into a stand of trees. Airbags were hanging out of both vehicles, and smoke could be seen coming from the pickup truck.
The 911 caller, whose name was not made public by police, told the dispatcher that the pickup truck was traveling in the eastound lanes of the I-440 when it crossed the median and “came all the way across four lanes of traffic” before it collided with a Toyota sedan.
The collision occured in the far right lane of I-440 West. Hospital officials pronounced Rex Todd dead after emergency workers transported him to WakeMed’s Raleigh campus. Mary Lou Todd, 66, remains at WakeMed in fair condition, a hospital; spokeswoman reported on Monday.
Press remains hospitalized and is expected to survive his injuries, Sughrue said on Monday.
Press, a native of Duplin County, does not have a criminal record in North Carolina, according to state records. He lives just outside of Garner according to voter records.
The 911 caller said she and her husband were traveling just behind the Toyota when the accident happened. She told the dispatcher that both vehicles crashed into a stand of trees on the right side of the road. The caller also thought the pickup truck may have clipped a car in the eastbound lanes before it skidded into the westbound lanes.
She counted at least 10 people, including her husband, who got out of the vehicles to help. Her husband pulled Press out of the window of the smoking pickup, while another group of motorists urged the Todds, trapped inside of their sedan, to stay conscious.
Jahner: 919-829-4822; Twitter: @garnercleveland