Crash closes Beltway for hours

Occupants escape before car, 2 trucks go up in flames

February 28, 2007|By Nick Shields and Richard Irwin | Nick Shields and Richard Irwin,Sun reporters

An elderly driver and his wife were rescued from their burning car after the man's improper lane change in trying to exit the Baltimore Beltway led to a fiery crash with two tractor-trailers that closed the highway for hours yesterday, state police said.

The driver, 82-year-old William Rush, and his wife were rescued from their burning 2001 Cadillac by an off-duty Baltimore firefighter and an unknown bystander, authorities said.

Rush stopped on the outer loop of the Beltway near the Reisterstown Road exit about 10 a.m.; then, while trying to cross lanes to leave the interstate, he drove into the path of a tractor-trailer carrying 24 tons of agricultural lime, according to state police.

The rig crashed into the car, another tractor-trailer hauling 39 tons of municipal waste got caught up in the collision, and all three vehicles were quickly engulfed in fire, police said.

The two truckers escaped on their own and were taken to Sinai Hospital for treatment of injuries that were not considered life-threatening, police said.

Rush, of the 4000 block of Green Glade Road in the Phoenix area of Baltimore County, was charged with negligent driving and lane-change violations, police said. Neither he nor his wife, Emily Rush, 81, was injured, police said.

Reached at his home last night, Rush, a retired Bendix Corp. executive, said he greatly appreciated the efforts of off-duty Baltimore firefighter Brian McAllister, who helped him and his wife from their burning car.

Rush said he and his wife were on their way to a dental appointment in Pikesville when the accident occurred.

"After the truck struck us from the rear, I saw flames coming from the front of my car, and I reached over to get my wife out of the car," Rush said. He said McAllister and an unknown man assisted his wife before McAllister ran to the driver's side of the burning Cadillac to help him.

"I was about to get myself out when Mr. McAllister grabbed me under the arms and pulled me from the car," Rush said.

McAllister, 40, a burly 6-foot-3-inch, 300-pound firefighter, said he was returning home after dropping his wife at her job at a Pikesville law firm when he heard the blaring sound of truck horns and saw the crash.

"I ran about 10 car lengths to the Cadillac and helped the woman out before opening the driver's door and grabbed Mr. Rush as he was about to get out," said McAllister, a firefighter for 21 years assigned to Engine Co. 45 at Glen Avenue. He said Rush was having trouble getting out of his car when he pulled him free as flames erupted near the brake and gas pedals.

McAllister said when Rush and his wife were away from the burning car, he heard the driver cry out for what sounded like his "cat." He said he returned to the car to look for the pet, but by that time it was in flames.

"When I returned to Mr. Rush, I told him I couldn't find his cat," McAllister said. He said Rush told him he didn't say cat, but "cap" - his favorite cap.

"I'm glad I was able to react in time to help Mr. Rush and his wife," McAllister said, adding - after being described for much of the day as a hero by the news media - that he wanted to dedicate his efforts to Baltimore firefighter trainee Racheal Wilson, who died Feb. 9 in a much-criticized live-fire exercise.

Yesterday's accident backed up traffic for miles in both directions for several hours as police investigated the crash and highway crews cleaned up the wreckage and tons of burned trailer contents. But by 3 p.m., police said, all lanes on the Beltway had been reopened.

Police identified the truckers as John Conneely, 29, of Greensboro in Caroline County, and Alberto Santiago, 37, of Bayshore, N.Y.

nick.shields@baltsun.com

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