BEATRICE – The operator of a farm tractor was killed north of Beatrice Monday night, when a semi-truck struck the farm tractor, ejecting the operator.

The Nebraska State Patrol identified the tractor driver as 82-year-old Robert Snyder Sr., who lived in Odell.

Authorities say the accident happened at around 7:50 p.m., near U.S. Highway 77 and Chestnut Road, about a mile north of Pickrell.

Investigators say the farm tractor was northbound with its hazard lights blinking and a slow traffic sign on the back of the vehicle.  A semi driven by 38-year-old Troy Smith, of Crete, veered at the last second but struck the the left side of the farm tractor, taking the rear wheel off.

The tractor operator died at the scene.  Smith suffered minor injuries and was arrested by a Nebraska State Patrol Officer at the scene.  Gage County Attorney Roger Harris said the preliminary booking charges Smith with motor vehicle homicide and careless driving.  Harris said it was not certain how fast the truck was traveling prior to impact, but investigators say neither speed nor alcohol use were factors in the collision.  Harris said, "the tractor had been seen just prior to this...and its estimated speed was around 20-miles-per-hour. 

The county attorney said there did not appear to be sight difficulties, with the highway grade at the location.  He said, "it's wide open....there were no vision problems....they weren't going into the sun, or anything like that."

Law officers said the truck driver was distracted.  Harris said Smith had told authorities he had taken his eyes off the road, momentarily. 

The collision forced a shutdown of U.S. Highway 77 in the northbound lanes, until about 2:30 a.m., Tuesday. Traffic was diverted off U.S. Highway 77 onto the Pickrell Road.   Beatrice Fire and Rescue, Beatrice Rural Fire and Pickrell Fire personnel were sent to the scene. 

The accident is being investigated by the Nebraska State Patrol, assisted by the Gage County Sheriff’s Office.  Harris said Smith posted a percentage of bond and was released from custody.