Pregnant mother of 3 killed when semi wheel hub smashes into windshield

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A flying wheel hub crashed through the windshield of a car driven by a pregnant mother of three Tuesday. (WLS)

A pregnant woman was killed Tuesday when a 100-pound wheel hub came loose from a semitrailer on Interstate 80 near Chicago and smashed into her windshield.

Melinda Cullen, 38, was on her way home from work at the time of the accident. She was due to deliver her baby, a son, in ten days.

Cullen's parents-in-law, Charles Cullen and Peggy Bingham, last saw Cullen Sunday.

"We would give anything to not see this have happened," Charles Cullen said. "We just lost so much."

About 2:20 p.m., the semitrailer was headed east on I-80 when a wheel hub came off the trailer's rear axle and crossed over into the westbound lanes of traffic, according to Illinois State Police.

The lost hub collided with the windshield of Cullen's SUV as it headed west, killing her at the wheel, state police said.

"You don't expect something like this here, how it happened," Charles Cullen said. "She was just in that place at that time. I sat up last night wondering if she would have been five minutes or 3 minutes, one way or the other, they would have missed it."

Witness Rob Bishop said Cullen's car took a direct hit from the tire.

"First thing I thought of was that could happen to anyone at any time," said Bishop. "And that poor person in that vehicle probably never saw it coming. There were 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."

Cullen was rushed to the hospital, where she and her unborn son were pronounced dead.

"She was just a sweet girl," Bingham said. "I can't believe that she is gone. That baby. I was hoping that baby would make it. It would have meant a lot."

Cullen is survived by her husband, Dave Cullen, and three daughters, ages 8, 5 and 15 months.

"Melinda was such a wonderful woman, and her and my son were like they were made for each other," Charles Cullen said.

"I don't think anybody would have anything bad to say about Melinda. She was a sweetheart, a good mother," Bingham said. "I am going to miss her."

Three years ago, an investigation looked into similar crashes and discovered that they are rare, but often go unreported.

The driver of the semi has been charged with a Federal Safety Act violation for unsafe equipment.

Sun-Times Media Wire contributed to this report.

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