Driver charged in fiery fatal crash says problem with semi forced him to stop on I-94

Yuhai Zhu faces negligent homicide and reckless endangerment charges for the crash near Mapleton, North Dakota.

Yuhai Zhu.jpeg
Yuhai Zhu appears Friday, March 17, in Cass County District Court for charges connected to a fiery fatal crash near Mapleton, North Dakota.
Matt Henson / WDAY

FARGO — A driver charged in connection to a fiery fatal semi crash near Mapleton, North Dakota, said his semi experienced a problem that forced him to stop, according to a criminal complaint.

Yuhai Zhu, 52, of Richmond Hill, Ontario, appeared Friday, March 17, in Cass County District Court on felony charges of negligent homicide and reckless endangerment. He faces five years in prison for each charge.

The charges stem from a Wednesday semi crash that killed 72-year-old Randall Buxton from New Westminster, British Columbia. Zhu’s 2014 Volvo semi was stopped in the right westbound lane of Interstate 94 about 2 miles west of Mapleton when Buxton slammed into Zhu’s semitrailer with a 2000 Peterbilt, according to a criminal complaint.

The two vehicles became engulfed in flames, forcing authorities to shut down the westbound lanes of I-94 for eight hours. Eastbound lanes were closed for one hour.

Zhu was hauling green antifreeze fluid, and Buxton was transporting large HVAC equipment.


Zhu was not injured, but Buxton died at the scene.

Passing motorists reported Zhu was stopped on the interstate before the crash, according to the complaint. Law enforcement were responding to Zhu’s stopped semi when the crash happened, the complaint said.

Zhu told a state trooper that a problem with his semi forced him to slow to a stop, though he didn’t know what the issue was, the complaint said. He said he thought he had pulled over to the shoulder, according to the complaint.

Video showed the semi slowly coming to a stop, giving Zhu “ample opportunity” to pull over to the side of the road, a state trooper said in the complaint.

Based on three cameras mounted on his semi, troopers say he was parked on the interstate for 2 minutes and 13 seconds before the crash.

Zhu also did not use emergency triangles to warn other drivers he was stopped, the complaint said. A passing driver who reported the stopped semi said it was hard to see the trailer's lights because it was dirty, the complaint said.

Troopers say Zhu had just taken an hour rest at the rest hour 2 miles east of the crash site. They say before getting back on the road he failed to conduct a federal and state mandated safety check. Troopers believe at that point Zhu likely would have noticed the dirt on his truck.

Zhu was released from the Cass County Jail on a $5,000 cash bond. His attorney, Challis Williams, declined to comment on the case.

April Baumgarten joined The Forum in February 2019 as an investigative reporter. She grew up on a ranch 10 miles southeast of Belfield, N.D., where her family raises Hereford cattle. She double majored in communications and history/political science at the University of Jamestown, N.D.
What To Read Next
Get Local