2 of firm's trucks failed in or near both city tunnels Broken brake line cited in fatal pileup

April 29, 1991|By Thom Loverro

Nearly three hours before a paving company dump truck's apparent brake failure touched off a fatal 11-vehicle crash on the Harbor Tunnel Thruway, another truck owned by the same firm had to be towed out of the neighboring Fort McHenry Tunnel because of brake problems.

The dump truck from Cunningham Paving Co. of Crownsville was towed from the Fort McHenry Tunnel about 1:40 p.m. Saturday because of locked brakes, Maryland Toll Facilities spokesman Thomas E. Freberger said yesterday.

About 4:30 p.m., another Cunningham Paving truck -- filled with asphalt -- reportedly lost its brakes on the thruway, just north of the Harbor Tunnel. It crossed lanes, plowing over the top of a 1988 Nissan operated by Kimberly Ann Schroeder, pushing it into a concrete barrier and triggering a pileup of vehicles around them.

Ms. Schroeder, 23, of the 7400 block of Kirtley Road, was pronounced dead at 12:30 a.m. yesterday at the Maryland Shock Trauma Center. It took an hour for rescue workers to free her from the smashed car. The truck had to be hoisted away from it by a crane, authorities said.

Eight other people were injured, none of them seriously, Toll Facilities police said. They refused to divulge the names of those injured in the crash, citing confusion about which of the drivers and passengers were taken to hospitals.

At the time of the accident, traffic ahead had been stopped because of a disabled vehicle in the southbound tube, said Toll Facilities Police Officer Betty Lugay.

The crash occurred about a quarter-mile north of the tunnel entrance.

Toll Facilities police were awaiting word yesterday from the city state's attorney's office to determine what charges, if any, would be filed against the driver of the truck, John Willie Buie, 58, of Baltimore.

NTC An investigation by the Toll Facilities Police Truck Safety Division confirmed that one of the truck's brake lines had broken. The driver apparently swerved into the left southbound lane to avoid ramming the car ahead of him, crossed lanes and struck Ms. Schroeder's car, police said.

The cars following the truck and the Nissan were unable to slow down quickly enough to avoid crashing into each other, police said.

One of the drivers, Cynthia M. Blackett, 29, of the 3600 block of South Hanover Street, said she was sitting in her 1986 Ford pickup truck waiting for stalled traffic to move when she heard a booming noise.

"Then I got hit, and I got hit from all sides," she said. "Someone hit me from in the rear, I got hit in the side and all over. When it all stopped, I had a car sitting on my rear bumper and right next to his car was the dump truck, and underneath that car was part of the Nissan."

Ms. Blackett, who was released after treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital, said: "I had to crawl out of the window of the passenger side of the truck and crawl over the top of a car to get away from the scene."

Coming through the tunnel on his way back from a Florida vacation with his family was William Kosbob, an emergency medical technician from Stamford, Conn. He said he came on the scene about 30 seconds after the accident happened and found Ms. Schroeder trapped in her car. "She was pinned in the lower left corner of the car, the only space that was left," he said.

"She was fully conscious. I tried to get close to her to reassure her that help was on the way. I knew she was badly hurt," Mr. Kosbob said.

"I turned to a fireman and said that we don't have much time and we've got to get her out now. The paramedics and ambulance people did a super job. It's phenomenal that they got her out in an hour."

Chris Whatley of Millersville said he was several car lengths from the crash site and described the scene as "an ungodly mess. You couldn't even tell what kind of car it was beneath the truck."

Mr. Whatley said traffic in both lanes of the tunnel had been stopped for "at least six or seven minutes" before the accident happened.

"We were stopped still and people were getting out of their cars wondering what the delay was," he said. "Then we heard a loud boom and the highway shook."

Cunningham Paving officials could not be reached for comment.

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