By Steve Huffman
The driver of a tractor-trailer escaped serious injury on Interstate 85 Wednesday afternoon after his rig flipped onto its side and hit a guardrail before continuing down the highway and striking a bridge abutment.
The impact with the abutment sheered the top from the tractor and trailer and left debris strewn for several hundred feet in both the southbound and northbound lanes of the interstate near Exit 68.
Traffic, already slowed because of construction farther south on the interstate, briefly ground to a halt.
But witnesses said they were amazed that the truck’s driver remained conscious and complained only of back pain when they pulled him from the cab.
“To be honest, to look at the truck, I figured he’d be dead,” said Doug Miller, a Western Express driver from Greenwood, S.C., who witnessed the crash.
“I can’t believe he survived.”
Trooper D.R. Brackman of the N.C. Highway Patrol identified the driver as William Dennis Cutright, 58, of Byhalia, Miss. He was driving a 1997 Freightliner truck for Aims Express of Colliersville, Tenn.
The truck was carrying hardwood flooring that was dumped across much of the interstate’s southbound and northbound lanes.
There were no signs that excessive speed or alcohol contributed to the wreck, according to Brackman, who issued no charges.
Brackman judged damage to N.C. Department of Transportation property at $20,000. The truck was a total loss.
Miller said he was traveling north on the interstate shortly before 2 p.m. when he saw the oncoming tractor-trailer swerve out of control and head straight for him.
“I thought he was going to come over,” Miller said. “If it hadn’t been for the guardrail, he’d definitely have been in front of me.”
Instead, the metal barrier diverted the tractor-trailer and kept it from crashing into the northbound lanes. But the truck’s momentum caused it to continue on its left side into the cement abutment at Webb Road.
Miller said the truck’s driver had already unbuckled his seat belt by the time he stopped his own truck and rushed to his aid. “He was trying to dig himself out,” Miller said.
He said the driver told him that the wreck was caused because the throttle on his truck hung as he disengaged the cruise control.
He was trying to slow his tractor-trailer as he came upon the slow-moving traffic in front of him.
But Miller said the driver told him that when he realized he couldn’t slow his rig in time, he swerved sharply to the left. That’s when the vehicle flipped onto its side.
“I knew he’d swerved too hard,” Miller said. “I knew what was going to happen.”
Hodge Coffield, chief of the China Grove Police Department, was one of the first law enforcement officers to arrive. Like Miller, Coffield said he was surprised that the truck’s driver didn’t sustain more serious injuries.
“He had a couple of scrapes, but that was it,” Coffield said.
Contact Steve Huffman at 704-797-4222 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
By Steve Huffman