Inferno flares after truck crash
Driver escapes by kicking out windshield
TIRES ABLAZE Billowing black smoke and fire mark the site Thursday where a Birmingham, Ala.-based 18-wheeler struck a bridge railing on Interstate 20/59. Its load of tires erupted into flames, which Meridian firefighters work to smother with foam. Photo by Paula Merritt/The Meridian Star
By Fredie Carmichael / staff writer
March 5, 2004
Michael Lee popped the top of an ice-cold Pepsi on Thursday and climbed down from the cab of his big rig as he watched the remains of another tractor trailer engulfed in flames.
Lee, a truck driver from North Carolina, watched Meridian firefighters extinguish the blaze which began about 2:45 p.m. when an 18-wheeler struck a bridge railing in the westbound lane of Interstate 20/59 in front of Wal-Mart SuperCenter.
Lee was traveling in the eastbound lane when he approached the blaze. He said he stopped and watched the driver of the tractor trailer use his feet and hands to break out the windshield of the cab and escape the flames.
Lee was among hundreds of motorists in both lanes who were forced to stop and wait as Meridian firefighters worked to clear the interstate of debris and extinguish the fire.
Traffic was stalled for miles in both directions for more than an hour. Some motorists socialized with other temporarily stranded drivers while others just sat quietly and waited for the commotion to clear.
The unidentified driver of the wrecked vehicle was the only one injured in the accident, officials said. He was taken to a local hospital with what officials on the scene described as non-life threatening injuries.
The unidentified driver of another 18-wheeler that may have been involved talked with law enforcement officers and on his cell phone. He refused to answer questions from reporters about the accident because he said his lawyers advised him not to, and because he said he didn't know anything.
The Meridian Police Department's Accident Reconstruction Team is investigating the accident.
Meridian Fire Chief Tim Miller, whose department is investigating the fire, said the burning truck was carrying a load of new tires.
Miller said another vehicle was reportedly involved in the accident and drove to the Kentucky Fried Chicken parking lot on North Frontage Road afterwards.
Lee, though, said he never saw another car. He said when he arrived at the scene, he watched the driver of the wrecked 18-wheeler stumble from his burning vehicle.
Lee was carrying a trailer full of exercise equipment bound for Rocky Mountain, N.C., by Monday. He said he was in no hurry and would wait until law enforcement officers reopened his lane.