Final report due on truck-van crash that killed 11

LOUISVILLE — Lester Gingerich found himself happy and melancholy at a recent family wedding: He was tickled for the bride but missing his son and would-be daughter-in-law, who died nearly 18 months ago in a violent crash on Interstate 65.

Joel Gingerich, 22, and his fiancée, Rachel Esh, 20, were among 11 people killed on March 26, 2010, when a tractor-trailer driven by Kenneth Laymon, 45, of Jasper, Ala., crossed the median about 74 miles south of Louisville and struck a van carrying a Mennonite family and several friends to a wedding in Iowa.

"Those are the times when we really miss them," Gingerich said of weddings and other family celebrations. "Those are bittersweet."

The National Transportation Safety Board is set to meet Tuesday in Washington to consider the final report on the deadly wreck, a meeting Gingerich and the Eshes plan to attend.

For the families of Laymon, the Eshes and Gingerich, the hearing will end the investigation of an accident that has consumed their lives, even if it doesn't bring definitive answers about what happened that day.

"I don't know if they'll be able to really know what went on," said Laymon's widow, Misty Laymon. "Nothing's going to change the outcome. He's not going to come back here. The Mennonite family isn't going to come back."

Also killed in the crash were John Esh, 64, owner of a vinyl-building business in Marrowbone; his 62-year-old wife, Sadie; their daughters, Rose, 40, Anna, 33, and Rachel, 20; their son and daughter-in-law, Leroy Esh, 41, Naomi Esh, 33, and their adopted infant son; and family friend Ashlie Michelle Kramer, 22. Two young children survived.

Kentucky State Police concluded that distraction and cellphone use were factors in the accident. Laymon's cellphone was active around the time of the wreck. He tested negative for alcohol or drug use.

"He wouldn't even drink a beer at home on his day off," Misty Laymon said.

Laymon was making a 690-mile trip from Lansing, Mich., to Cullman, Ala.

Federal authorities said Laymon left Michigan at about 4 p.m. on March 25, 2010. The wreck happened roughly 13 hours after Laymon's departure. From Lansing, Mich., to Munfordville is about 437 miles, or a 6-hour, 50-minute drive.

Since the wreck, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration has shut down Hester Inc., the Fayette, Ala., trucking company that Laymon drove for. Scott Hester, the company's one-time president, could not be immediately located.

Pastor Leroy Kauffman of Marrowbone Christian Brotherhood in Burkesville, a spokesman for the Esh family, said the family is still grieving, but "by the grace of God" is holding up.

"We want them back, but we don't wish it for their sake," Kauffman told The Associated Press. "It will always leave a large hole in their lives."

The families, who visited with each other about a month after the wreck, see the hearing as another step in a long healing process.

Misty Laymon, a nurse who has been raising a pair of teenage boys and a 6-year-old daughter on her own since the wreck, told AP that the year-and-a-half since the wreck has been tough on the family because there are so many unanswered questions.

"I don't know if you ever get through it," said Misty Laymon, who plans to watch the hearing online. "You just learn to live with it."

Lester Gingerich, who runs a concrete contracting business in southern Kentucky, said that, of his eight children, his oldest son, Ben, has had the toughest time, missing the "moral support" of his brother.

"It's been hard on him not to have that," the father said. "I think he's doing well, though."

Gingerich plans to attend the hearing because "I feel I have a responsibility to know what caused it for my son." And, despite the grieving and hardships since the wreck, Gingerich said, his faith is not shaken.

"I think we're learning to live with it and to cope with it," he said Thursday. "I know, even in the midst of this, that God is good."