In a tragic incident Tuesday, a pregnant Illinois mother-of-three died when the wheel hub of an oncoming semi-truck dislodged and smashed into the windshield of her SUV.
Melinda Cullen, 38, and her unborn child died in the incident.
“She was just a sweet girl,” mother-in-law Peggy Bingham told local TV station ABC7. “I can’t believe that she is gone. That baby. I was hoping that baby would make it, it would have meant a lot.”
Here are five things to know about the tragedy:
1. The Vehicles Were Traveling in Opposite Directions
Illinois State Police told ABC7 that shortly before 2:30 p.m., a 100-pound wheel hub dislodged from a semi-trailer’s rear axle as it headed east on Interstate 80 in Joliet, Ill.
The wheel rim reportedly crossed the median into oncoming traffic and crashed through the windshield of Cullen’s SUV.
A witness spoke with ABC7 about the incident after he saw Cullen’s car taking a direct hit from the wheel hub.
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“First thing I thought of was that could happen to anyone at any time,” Rob Bishop told the TV reporter. “And that poor person in that vehicle probably never saw it coming…There was two state police officers next to it and there was a pretty big gaping hole in the windshield right in front of where the driver’s face would have been.”
2. Cullen was Expected to Give Birth in 10 Days
Cullen was traveling on I-80, on her way home from work, according to ABC7.
She was scheduled to deliver a baby boy in 10 days, the station reports.
“We would give anything to not see this happened,” the mother’s father-in-law Charles Cullen told the station. “We just lost so much.”
3. Her Unborn Child Was to Be Named Jaxson Cash Cullen
According to her online obituary, Melinda was expected to give birth next week and she already had a name: Jaxson Cash Cullen
After the accident, she was transported to the hospital where she and her unborn son were pronounced dead.
Melinda was raised in Coal City, Illinois, and while in school played basketball, participated in vocal competitions, and was a member of the math team, her obituary says. She earned a bachelor’s degree in communications from Southern Illinois University.
4. Driver Was Cited for Having Unsafe Equipment
The driver — whose name PEOPLE could not confirm — was driving a 13-year-old truck which included a 2005 Volvo Truck tractor with a Hyundai semi-trailer at the time of the incident, state police told Patch.com.
He was charged with having unsafe equipment, which is a violation of the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Act, according to multiple reports.
Calls to the Illinois State Police have not been returned.
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It was not immediately clear if the driver had a lawyer who could comment on his behalf.
5. Cullen Was a Mom of 3 Daughters
In an obituary posted online, Melinda is survived by three daughters: Arianna Paige Mierzwa, Olivia Delaney Mierzwa and Katrina Quinn Cullen, ages 8, 5 and 15 months.
“She also made special time for her family or anyone in need,” according to the obituary. “Family was of utmost importance to her, and she will most be remembered as a devoted mother that leaves behind a beautiful family that will miss her very much.”
She married David Cullen on October 23, 2015.
“Melinda was such a wonderful woman, and her and my son,” Charles Cullen told ABC7, “were made for each other.”