An elderly West Baltimore couple escaped injury yesterday when their camper blew a tire, overturned on the Beltway and was rocked by a propane explosion moments after witnesses helped them to safety.
The roadside Samaritans included a tractor-trailer driver and twcity police officers who were heading to work when they saw the recreational vehicle hit the concrete median barrier and overturn.
"It hit the ground and literally came apart," said Sgt. John McCullom Jr., who was driving to work at the Northwest District with his New Windsor neighbor, Officer Douglas Kerr.
The 3 p.m. crash near Pikesville, on the Beltway's inner loop at Interstate 795, also turned the afternoon rush hour into a nightmare. State police said the roadway was closed from 3:20 p.m. to 4:55 p.m. and traffic backed up for miles.
also left 70-year-olds Jacob E. and Frances J. Cheezum shaken but uninjured. Their 18-foot 1976 Dodge Cruise Master RV was consumed by the fire, which was fueled by gasoline and volatile propane.
State Trooper Gregory Taylor, who investigated the accident, credited the witnesses -- particularly the off-duty city police officers -- with saving Mr. and Mrs. Cheezum.
Sergeant McCullom said the couple "flew from the front into the back, in the middle of all the debris. The sides of it [the RV] and the roof just collapsed.
"Officer Kerr and myself saw some flames and some gasoline running down, so we just went over and helped them. The lady had a cut on her hand. They were basically disoriented."
Mrs. Cheezum recalled that confusion last night, saying, "I could not figure out how I got in the back end of the RV. We didn't hit anything."
One of the policemen, she said, shouted orders, " 'Get out, let's move -- move.' "
"He didn't drag or pull," Mrs. Cheezum said. "He just handed me a hand, to get out."
The sergeant said his chief concern, as flames spread inside the camper, was to get the couple to safety. Within minutes, the vehicle was engulfed in flames and a propane tank exploded, he said.
"It was just amazing to see it --how fast the camper went up," Sergeant McCullom said.
Mr. Cheezum said he bought the camper in the late 1970s with just 5,800 miles on it. They had added another 100,000 miles before yesterday's crash, adding to a lifetime of travel that has taken the couple to 49 states and most of Canada. "We have not been to Hawaii, because we can't drive there," Mr. Cheezum said.
The crash halted a shorter trip -- a weeklong getaway to Pennsylvania for the couple, who have seven children and live on Wedgewood Road, near the city's western limits.
But as close to tragedy as they came, Mrs. Cheezum was left with some warm memories from the mishap. "I have never seen many congenial people in my life -- truck drivers, pedestrians. A lady gave me a pair of flip-flops. I lost one of my shoes," she said.
Sergeant McCullom said the couple "lost their camper, and that's about it."
But Mrs. Cheezum had another perspective: "My No. 2 son said, 'You didn't lose anything, Mom."