Killed trying to help: The heartbreaking story of Jeffrey R. Campbell’s death on I-75

Jamie Campbell would have driven on past the wreck on Interstate 75. It was dark and the scene looked dangerous. But her husband, Jeffrey R. Campbell, routinely stopped to assist stranded motorists. He liked helping people and was an experienced auto mechanic.

“If there was ever anyone on the side of the road with a flat tire, we were stopping so he could help change it,” said Jamie Campbell.

She was driving when they saw the wreck Sunday evening in Madison County, but her husband had her pull over anyway.

As she sat nearby in their SUV, another driver passing the wreck hit and killed Jeffrey Campbell, 30.

Now Jamie Campbell, 32, faces the awful uncertainties of raising their two daughters without him.

“He was such a good man. He was the best father and the best husband,” said Campbell, who lives in Louisville.

The driver who hit Jeffrey Campbell also hit Meredith L. Buscher, 22, who had stopped at the wreck scene.

Madison County Coroner Jimmy Cornelison said Campbell died instantly. Buscher died after being taken to the University of Kentucky Chandler Hospital.

No charges are expected against the motorist who hit Campbell and Buscher. However, state police have filed a number of charges against the man whose wreck triggered the deadly collision.

Bryan M. Mangan, 56, of South Bend, Ind., was allegedly driving drunk when he lost control of his 1999 Ford Explorer and hit a guardrail along the interstate about two miles north of Richmond. The crash happened about 7:30 p.m. Sunday.

Mangan has been charged with aggravated drunk driving, nine counts of wanton endangerment, driving on a suspended license and driving negligently without a license. It is possible charges could be added or changed by a grand jury, said Trooper Robert Purdy, a state police spokesman.

Buscher had been to see Sara Cornelison at her home in Richmond that afternoon.

Buscher lived in Cincinnati, where she had gone to work as a recruiter for Insight Global after graduating from the University of Kentucky in May. She had grown up in Richmond, and she and Cornelison had been best friends since pre-school, Cornelison said.

Buscher brought food from Taco Bell for the two of them and visited awhile before leaving for Cincinnati, said Cornelison, who had turned 23 Friday.

Jeffrey and Jamie Campbell had been to Corbin so he could help his father, who is ill, while she and the girls visited her mother, Beulah Gibson Hayden, Jamie Campbell said.

Hayden said she usually told her son-in-law to be careful before he and his family left, but didn’t on Sunday.

Buscher and the Campbells were driving near Mangan when his SUV hit the guardrail and other vehicles, then flipped over and came to a stop partly blocking the interstate.

Other collisions happened as drivers tried to avoid the wreck. A total of five vehicles were involved, state police said.

Cornelison said Buscher’s car was hit in the melee and she ended up facing south on the northbound side of the interstate.

Buscher called her father to let him know she’d been in a wreck but was okay, Cornelison said.

Jamie Campbell said debris was still flying as she came abreast of the wreck. She swerved and got past.

“There’s no way I would have stopped,” she said. “It looked dangerous.”

Her husband asked her to pull over, however. He told her he would call 9-1-1 and that he would be right back.

Police are still working to reconstruct the complicated wreck, but have determined that a driver from Fort Thomas, 41-year-old Clifford Steinhauer, hit Campbell and Buscher.

It appears Campbell went to check on Buscher before both were hit between Buscher’s car and Mangan’s overturned SUV, Purdy said.

It may be that both of them were headed to check on Mangan, Purdy said.

It was very dark at the site, Purdy said; two ambulances rushing to the wreck nearly hit Mangan’s vehicle.

Jamie Campbell said as she sat with her daughters in the family’s SUV and the minutes dragged on with no word from her husband, her fear grew.

She started calling him, but he didn’t answer or text back.

She didn’t feel she should leave her daughters, who were watching a movie in the vehicle, to try to find out what was happening, and she couldn’t get information about her husband when police officers first came to ask what she’d seen in the wreck, she said.

But she knew something was terribly wrong.

“I just knew in my spirit that my connection with my husband had changed, and it was terrifying,” Campbell said.

The coroner ultimately came to tell her that her husband was dead. That was 90 minutes to two hours after the wreck, Campbell said.

Jeffrey and Jamie Campbell lived in Jefferson County, but had grown up in Laurel County, where they were sweethearts at South Laurel High School from the time she was a sophomore and he was a freshman.

He hustled to finish school early so he could be with her when she went to the University of Louisville, she said.

They married in 2004 and later had two daughters; Lillian Marie is 7 now, and Amelia Grace is 5.

Jamie Campbell had thought of becoming a teacher, but she and her husband decided he would work while she cared for their girls, whom she home-schools.

“He was her everything,” Hayden said of the relationship of her daughter and son-in-law.

Campbell was the manager at an independent Goodyear dealership in Louisville called Assured Auto Care.

The owner, Dan Effinger, said Campbell had started at the store as a service technician and worked his way up to run the store.

Effinger said Campbell was intelligent, friendly and outgoing. He was “exceptional” with customers, remembering them by name, Effinger said.

“He’s one of the best managers I’ve ever had,” Effinger said Wednesday. “He’s going to be impossible to replace.”

Effinger said Campbell also was a devoted family man. Anytime he asked off, it was for an activity with his daughters, Effinger said.

The two were “Daddy’s girls,” Hayden said, and he doted on them, cuddling with them to watch television and reading them stories at bedtime.

The two are struggling with their father’s death. The oldest, Lillian, is angry; her sister, Amelia, has tried to avoid thinking about what’s happened, but it gets harder at night, Campbell said.

Campbell said her faith is a help, and she feels her husband’s presence.

Still, “It’s hard to go to bed alone and wake up alone,” she said.

Campbell’s loss is an echo of her mother’s experience as a young widow.

Hayden, then Beulah Gibson, was pregnant with her daughter in December 1981 when her husband, James Gibson, was killed with seven other men in an explosion at a Knott County mine.

She gave birth days later and named the baby girl for her father.

Jamie Campbell said it was hard not knowing her father, and her husband’s death will be hard for her daughters. His spirit will help her be strong for them, though, Campbell said.

Campbell didn’t hesitate when asked what she would say to people.

“That there are still good people out there in the world who will help, and life is precious.”

Buscher was one of those good people as well, Cornelison said — vivacious, selfless and strong in her faith.

“She was the best person ever,” Cornelison said. “If you weren’t laughing when you were around her, there was something wrong.”

Bill Estep: (606) 678-4655. Twitter: @billestep1