Two men save truck driver in fatal accident

Published 7:33 pm Tuesday, October 31, 2006

One man’s life was saved and another person’s lost as the result of a fiery accident involving a Ford Aerostar passenger van and a 18-wheel truck.

The smoke was seen from miles away as the burning diesel fuel engulfed the truck where it ended up in the woods. The incident had traffic backed up for more than two hours and more than five miles.

The accident in the north-bound lanes of Interstate 59 occurred at about 2:30 Monday evening as the van pulled out in front of the truck and was struck by it, said Tony Patrolia and Chris Tingstrom, who were riding together in the same vehicle. Tingstrom and Patrolia said they were about an eighth of a mile behind the accident when it occurred and witnessed the van pull out in front of the large truck from the shoulder of I-59 just before Exit 1. They said the truck tried to avoid the collision but it was too late.

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“It caught the van and shot it into the woods,” Tingstrom said.

At that time Patrolia said he and Tingstrom called 911 for help.

Another man who was following more closely behind the truck witnessed the incident take place from a different angle. Ricky Martin said he saw the accident occur but was too close to see what exactly caused it, though the driver of the truck later told him that the van pulled out in front of him. What Martin said he did see was the rear wheels of the trailer being pulled by the semi lift from the ground upon impact with the van, then both vehicles went in the trees.

“I don’t know where the van came from, but apparently he didn’t have a chance to stop,” said Wayne Oswald who was also following behind the semi in a separate vehicle.

After the truck went into the woods, the truck driver found himself in a dangerous situation.

“It burst into flames as soon as it hit,” Martin said. “There was fire everywhere.”

After Martin and Oswald witnessed the accident, they pulled to the side of the road and went to the truck to help the driver. Oswald said as he and Martin went to the cab of the truck and they could hear the truck driver yelling for help. At that point Martin pulled the driver out of the cab and both men pulled the driver away from the burning cab into the woods since the driver had a broken leg.

Martin said he climbed on top of the truck and kicked the windshield out to get to the driver, finally pulling him out the door from the top of the cab. Martin and Oswald pulled the driver to safety into the woods, they said.

“It was a bad day to wear shorts, I tell you that,” Martin said as he pointed to the blood on his legs caused by thorns on some of the bushes.

“That guy right there is a hero,” Oswald said as he pointed to Martin. “This guy did an excellent job of getting (the driver) out of there.”

“We got (the driver) as far away from the cab as we could then laid him down,” Oswald said.

After they pulled him into the woods Oswald said they heard explosions from the cab so they moved the driver farther away from the burning truck. After being saved, the driver asked about his driving companion, his dog.

“He was quite concerned about his dog, we never found that dog,” Oswald said.

The van fared much worse in the incident, one passenger of the van died at the scene while two others were taken to the hospital via ambulance. Patrolia and Tingstrom said all the occupants of the van were ejected.

The cab of the truck was all but burned up and only the engine block remained visible.

“Nothing short of a miracle explains that, the truck’s gone, destroyed,” said Mickey Harris, another bystander, as he pointed to what was left of the 18-wheel truck’s cab.

Names of the victims in the accident could not be released until next of kin are notified, said Sgt. Joe Gazzo with the Mississippi Highway Patrol.