Man saved after truck crushes van

Cement truck driver says brakes failed on Northern Parkway

Rescue takes 2 1/2 hours

May 29, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

A fully loaded cement truck, its brakes apparently malfunctioning, careened down a North Baltimore hill yesterday afternoon and triggered a chain-reaction collision before it landed on top of a minivan and pinned the driver inside for more than two hours.

Although the accident on West Northern Parkway involved six cars and a Mass Transit Administration bus with about 20 passengers aboard, police said only the trapped driver of the minivan was injured. Traffic on roads around Northern Parkway and Falls Road was snarled for hours.

Dave Stephens, 45, of Arnold was trapped for about 2 1/2 hours in the driver's seat of his dark green minivan, tightly pinned between the steering wheel and the cement truck's tire that had torn through the roof.

Baltimore city and county firefighters worked feverishly to extricate him, using a crane and a city public works wrecker to move the heavy cement truck before Stephens was freed as about two dozen onlookers applauded.

"I just thank God," said a shaken Felita Banjo of Northeast Baltimore, who was involved in the collision and stayed to watch as firefighters rescued Stephens. "It was a miracle that man made it out OK."

Two emergency doctors and an anesthesiologist raced to the scene and administered treatment, including a blood transfusion, to the trapped Stephens. He was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he was listed in critical condition last night.

The truck from Concrete Express, driven by Michael King, 34, of Northeast Baltimore, was traveling west in the 1200 block of W. Northern Parkway about 5 p.m. As his truck went down a hill and approached Falls Road, the driver realized the vehicle was malfunctioning and attempted to maneuver it off the road to the right, weaving through traffic, said Agent Ragina L. Cooper, a police spokeswoman.

Starting down the hill in the center lane, the truck clipped the left rear fender of a Dodge Ram pickup, tried to swerve between two vehicles and sideswiped them. It then hit a fourth vehicle, several witnesses said.

Swerving into the right lane, the truck plowed into the green minivan, shoving it into the back of a city bus. The cement truck then came up and over the minivan, coming to rest on top of it. The right front tire of the cement truck tore through the minivan's roof and pinned Stephens inside.

Several witnesses said it appeared that the driver, although unable to stop the truck, was attempting to swerve to miss vehicles stopped ahead.

A driver who was behind the cement truck coming down the hill said he heard the brakes fail. "The truck's brakes popped as he came down the hill," said Mitchel Crosby of Baltimore. "He was trying to control the vehicle."

Baltimore police said last night that they are investigating the cause, including whether the brakes failed, but that it is too early to determine a cause.

Banjo was stopped in traffic when she saw the bus barreling toward her. "I looked up in the rear view mirror and said, `Oh my God, he's going to hit me!' " she said. After the impact, Banjo got out to inspect the damage when she saw the tangled wreckage behind the bus.

"People were trying to talk to the driver," she said. "He said he was breathing, but with some difficulty. He said his legs were stuck. We couldn't get him out. All we could say was, `There's help on the way.' "

Stephens' 5-year-old son, Matthew, was in the minivan but was not hurt in the crash.

Heather MacGregor of Towson, who was driving home on the other side of Northern Parkway when she saw the crash, pulled over and tried to help. She tried to comfort Matthew and bought him an ice cream sandwich from a nearby convenience store as the boy waited for his mother to arrive.

"I don't think he knew exactly what was going on," she said. "He was made an honorary police officer, so he was pretty excited about that."

The rescue was complicated because firefighters couldn't lift the heavy cement truck high enough to get Stephens out, said a soot-covered Capt. Joseph Brocato, who helped supervise the effort.

During the 2 1/2-hour rescue, Brocato kept trying to encourage Stephens. "He was relatively conscious at first. Then he started drifting in and out," he said. "I kept saying, `Dave, you hang in there.' "

Firefighters tried lifting the cement truck with air bags and with a crane supplied by the Lutherville Volunteer Fire Company, to no avail. "Everything we tried, [the truck] was too heavy, too much weight," Brocato said. "Everybody was shooting ideas back and forth, and nothing was working."

When a tow truck arrived from the city's Public Works Department, it removed the bus from the wreckage. Then the tow truck, together with the crane, lifted the cement truck and Stephens was quickly removed from the minivan.

No charges will be filed against the truck driver, police said.

Sun staff writer Bernie Hayden contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 5/29/99

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