BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - The mother of an 18-year-old girl who died tragically in a crash on Interstate 10 is on a mission to find the driver of an 18-wheeler who witnesses said forced her off the highway. The case was closed a year ago, but she is hopeful new evidence will help investigators identify the rig.
Jennifer Young's family has always found comfort in the outdoors. Their home is filled with camouflage, hunting gear and trophies. Each piece has a story, but none are perhaps more cherished than those held by Jennifer's 18-year-old daughter Madison Welch, Maddie for short.
"She loved to hog hunt, deer hunt, anything outdoorsy," Jennifer said.
Jennifer said it is exactly what her daughter was headed to do in Kaplan, Louisiana on November 18, 2014.
"She packed all her stuff up, spent the night in her bedroom. We all hung out that night," Jennifer said.
Less than 24 hours later, as the sun was setting over southwest Louisiana, Maddie was on her way home to Zachary. She was driving east on I-10 just after 7 p.m. when she home called to check in.
"She said, 'We shot our limit in birds. It was the best day ever,'" Jennifer recalled.
Jennifer said a few minutes later, she got a frightening phone call from Maddie's friend.
"She said, 'I was on the phone with her and she was telling me about her hunting trip, and then she said, 'Oh God, this truck.'' Immediately we started calling Madison's phone, and it went straight to voicemail," Jennifer said. "It wasn't a few minutes after we tried to call her phone, East Baton Rouge deputies show up at our house and proceeded to tell us there had been a wreck and that Madison had been involved."
According to the Breaux Bridge Police Department, the agency that responded to the crash, Maddie was driving in the left lane when she suddenly lost control of her truck and flipped into the median.
Pictures obtained by the Investigators show the tragic aftermath. Maddie's Toyota Tacoma was crushed. Her personal belongings were scattered across the highway. Maddie was thrown from the truck. Her body ending up in the westbound lanes of I-10.
William Kirksey said he saw the whole thing happen.
"I was just flabbergasted. There was an 18-wheeler with a flatbed trailer on it that was exiting the interstate. As he was pulling off, the 18-wheeler that was directly behind him, I don't know if he ran up on the truck or whatever, but he swerved over into the fast lane," Kirksey said. "When he did, the little truck Madison was driving was pretty much between the tandem axels of the truck and probably the tail end of the trailer."
Kirksey said he found Maddie barely breathing.
"She was gasping for air as if she was just riding in pain," Kirksey said.
Maddie was rushed to Lafayette General Medical Center. Her family would have to pass the scene of Maddie's crash to get there.
"I just recall leaning over the seat just wanting to vomit, just not believing what I was seeing," Jennifer said.
When Jennifer first saw her daughter, she was in the ICU.
"Maddie is one hundred pounds, five foot, blond hair, blue eyes. She was just such a pistol, and to see her so helpless. It was horrifying," Jennifer said.
Maddie's body was so broken, Jennifer said she could hardly recognize her. Later that night, Maddie's brain pressure began to rise.
"There was a period of time through all this that God began to say, you've got to let her go," Jennifer said.
Maddie was buried four days before Thanksgiving. Her organs were donated to five people.
"On the one year anniversary of Madison's death we were able to meet with her heart recipient in Texas. The lady who has Madison's heart is doing wonderful. She was dying, and she received Maddison's heart, and she has now been able to go back to work and practice medicine again," Jennifer said.. "Madison's liver is in California. This gentleman has been given a whole new lease on life. Brad (Maddie's step father) rode bicycles with him. Brad said, 'it was like I was riding bicycles with Madison.' Her pancreas and kidney recipient live outside of Mobile, Alabama. Her vision gave sight to two people."
After a year of grieving, Jennifer has turned her focus back to the investigation.
Desperate to find the driver of the 18-wheeler, she recalled her husband reached out to investigators at the Breaux Bridge Police Department.
"My husband asked the officer, 'Would you please go to the weigh station, less than a mile from Madison's wreck and pull the data? We know the time of her wreck because we have the phone records,'" Jennifer said.
Jennifer soon learned the lead officer on the case, Sgt. Robert Maw, may have given up too soon.
"He said, 'So we don't have the data. It's gone,' and at that point I said, 'Oh God. We've got to do something,'" Jennifer said.
Jennifer believes finding the truck will help uncover the details of her daughter's wreck. She said had Sgt. Maw gone to the weigh station the night of the accident, she might have those answers.
Maddie's truck came to a rest on the I-10, across the street from the Pioneer Acadian Village campground in Breaux Bridge. A surveillance camera at the campground picked up that image and also may have picked up the image of the truck that ran Maddie off the road. But, so far, investigators said they have been able to gather very little from those images.
The video shows a pair of 18-wheelers driving past the Breaux Bridge exit moments before Maddie's truck flipped. Her mother believes the rig in the left lane ran Maddie off the road.
"I know God's brought us too far to turn us back. We've come too far. Why would he allow us to have all this evidence," Jennifer said.
PJ Hebert, who was the chief of Breaux Bridge PD at the time, declined comment.
The Investigators showed the video to current Breaux Bridge Police Chief Rollie Cantu. The case was closed before he took office, but he is familiar with the investigation. He said it is doubtful Sgt. Maw tried to pinpoint the truck by cross referencing the data from the weigh station and Maddie's cell phone records.
Chief Cantu said, to his knowledge, Sgt. Maw did go to the weigh station to collect the data. However, the Investigators found no evidence of that in the case file.
Cantu added, when an officer typically goes to a location to collect information, regardless of whether something is found, it is noted in that officer's
Chief Cantu said because it appears there was no contact between the 18-wheeler and Maddie's truck, it is unlikely the driver of the big rig would be charged. However, he said even the smallest clue, like the logo on the truck, could re-open the investigation.
Jennifer is not giving up.
"Somebody said something to somebody and we're going to get to the bottom of it," Jennifer said.
If you see anything that might help investigators identify the truck, call (225) 678-0720.