Firetruck And SUV collide

3 killed

City police are checking whether either vehicle drove through red light

December 10, 2007|By Gus G. Sentementes | Gus G. Sentementes,SUN REPORTER

A Baltimore firetruck responding to a call in the northwestern part of the city plowed into a sport utility vehicle early yesterday, killing all three people in the SUV, officials said, in one of the worst accidents in the Fire Department's history.

The firetruck crushed the 2006 Nissan Murano at Park Heights Avenue and Clarks Lane, and rescue crews had to use high-powered cutting tools to get to the victims.

Four firefighters were treated at Maryland Shock Trauma Center for minor injuries and released yesterday afternoon.

"We heard the firetruck and then, suddenly, a loud boom," said Shmuel Perlman, 29, who lives near the intersection and was awakened by sirens about 3 a.m. "There was no screech [of wheels]. The whole house shook."

The victims were taken to nearby Sinai Hospital, where they were pronounced dead shortly after being admitted, a Fire Department spokesman said. According to city police, the driver was Iryna Petrov, 49; her husband, Mikhail Petrov, 35, was in the front-seat; and the rear passenger was Igor Saub, 24. No further information was immediately available.

The Baltimore Police Department, which is conducting the primary accident inquiry, is investigating whether either vehicle drove through a red light at the intersection.

All fire and police vehicles responding to an emergency are required to use lights and sirens, and to stop at stop signs and traffic signals, officials said. If police investigators determine that the firetruck failed to stop at a signal, they would review the incident with the city state's attorney's office to determine whether criminal charges against the driver are appropriate, according to police officials.

The accident was considered the worst fatal collision involving fire and civilian vehicles for as long as some firefighters could remember.

"I'm numb," said Stephan G. Fugate, head of the Baltimore Fire Officer's Union, Local 964. "It just doesn't get any worse than this. This is as bad as it gets."

The Fire Department is conducting an internal review of the fatal collision, which included mandatory drug and alcohol testing of all four firefighters who were on the truck, according to Chief Kevin Cartwright, a department spokesman. He said the tests returned negative results.

The names of the firefighters were not released.

City officials could not say whether there were any witnesses to the crash, other than firefighters. But the intersection has a police surveillance camera mounted on a pole, and investigators will check the camera to see if it recorded the crash, according to Sterling Clifford, a spokesman for the city Police Department and Mayor Sheila Dixon.

Dixon asked the city to pray for the families of the three people who died

"These firefighters were on their way to help people, and it is an almost unimaginable tragedy that this accident occurred instead," she said in a statement.

"The families of the three who died will be in my heart and in my prayers today, and I ask the citizens of Baltimore to pray for them as well. My office will do whatever we can to help these families in this difficult hour. I know that this is an incredibly difficult day for the Baltimore Fire Department family as well."

For most of the morning, city police, firefighters and public works crews shut down the 6700 block of Park Heights Ave. in both directions as they cleared the scene. Fire officials said that the road had been wet from overnight rain when the accident occurred, and a light rain persisted through most of the morning.

Cartwright said the firetruck - Truck 27 - was coming from Engine Co. 45's station house in the 2700 block of Glen Ave. - less than a mile away. He said the driver, an officer and two firefighters were responding to a call about smoke in an apartment building in the 7200 block of Park Heights Ave.

Fire officials said the smoke was coming from a pot of food on a stove, which had not caught fire, though someone had called 911.

Another firetruck - Engine 29 - was following the Truck 27, and the driver of that fire engine gave officials a statement of what he saw, fire officials said.

At the scene of the collision, firefighters extricated the three people from the SUV. The firetruck had careered off of Park Heights Avenue, through a row of bushes, and down - and then up - an embankment. It came to a stop about 100 feet from the point of impact.

"It must've been going fast," said Shira Perlman, 29, Shmuel's wife. She said that she and her husband walked out of their house and watched as firefighters tried to save the lives of the people in the SUV.

"A firefighter told me that they didn't know there was a third person in there until after they started opening [the vehicle] up," she said. "It was bad. I was traumatized."

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