(Courtesy WBIR Knoxville)
SEVIER COUNTY, Tenn. -- A Georgia Tech graduate student and his parents were killed in a head-on collision near Knoxville. Tennessee Highway Patrol and Sevier County Sheriff's Deputies responded to the scene in the 3110 block of Wears Valley Road (U.S. 321) at around 6:30 a.m. Saturday.
Trooper Howard Greenlee told 10News in a phone interview that Shaun Dunlap, 27, of Maryville was driving alone in his 2011 Ford Ranger truck on the wrong side of the road.
Trooper Greenlee said Dunlap crashed into a 2011 Honda Civic, carrying the Dembla family of India. They were on vacation in Pigeon Forge. Trooper Greenlee said Dunlap admitted to being tired and sleepy and thought he might have fallen asleep at the wheel.
Ashish Dembla, a 24-year-old pursuing his Ph.D. at Georgia Tech, was driving the Civic. His younger sister, Kanika Dembla, 20, was riding in the passenger seat. His parents, Dr. Sat Pal Dembla, 57, and Anjali Dembla, 51, were riding in the back seat. Ashish, Sat Pal, and Anjali all died in the crash.
Dunlap was wearing his seat belt, as was Kanika and Ashish. Satpal and Anjali were not wearing their seat belts. Trooper Greenlee wrote in the report that seatbelts could have made a difference for the back seat passengers.
Kanika and Dunlap were both flown by Lifestar to UT Medical Center in Knoxville. Kanita Dembla suffered major head trauma and Dunlap suffered moderate injuries, according to Trooper Greenlee. At last check, Dunlap was listed in stable condition and Dembla was listed in serious condition.
Trooper Greenlee said it appears both vehicles were traveling between 45 to 50 miles per hour at the time of the crash. Dunlap had just left Gatlinburg and was traveling south toward Maryville. The Dembla family had just checked out of a condo and were headed north toward Pigeon Forge. Investigators found no evidence of alcohol or drugs at the scene.
Trooper Greenlee has been in contact with a cousin of the Dembla family who lives in Shreveport, La. and was coming to Knoxville to be with Kanika Dembla as she recovers in the hospital.
The accident report lists an Atlanta address for the family. But, troopers tell 10News most of the family was visiting from Renali Delhi, India. Trooper Greenlee clarified the discrepancy with 10News. He said he used Ashish's Atlanta address for the entire family because he could not translate the identifying information the other family members were carrying.
Neighbors nearby woke up to the sound of the head on collision.
"It was so severe I had never never seen nothing like it in my life," said Janet Caylor, a Wears Valley resident.
Caylor became emotional recalling the details of scene. She said it is one she will never forget.
"It took them [rescue workers] forever to get them out. They took the whole top of the car off," she said.
It took around 30 firefighters more than 2 hours to get the victims out.
"This is the worst wreck we've ever had in Wear's Valley," said Firefighter Brandon Headrick.
Investigators planned to re-visit the accident scene on Monday to continue their investigation. Traffic citations and criminal charges are pending against Dunlap.