Trooper says fire truck placement likely saved his life during interstate wreck
By: Darrell Todd Maurina
This car received extensive damage after smashing into the rear end of a Waynesville fire engine.
PULASKI COUNTY, Mo. (Oct. 29, 2009) — Rain-slicked roads on Thursday sent numerous cars into minor crashes, and also contributed to a wreck involving a Waynesville fire truck with two serious injuries that officers say could easily have become fatalities.
Troopers responded about 9:34 a.m. to a crash blocking the left lane of eastbound Interstate 44 at mile marker 157, about a mile east of the Waynesville exit. That crash turned out to be a non-injury wreck but firefighters and medical personnel didn’t know that at the time, so Waynesville firefighters sent Engine 1952, a rescue truck, and six firefighters to the crash scene to assist medical and tow company personnel.
Missouri Department of Transportation personnel reported the roadway had been cleared by 10:07 a.m. and emergency personnel prepared to leave the crash scene, but rapidly ran into problems.
“We were on the scene getting ready to merge into traffic and then I checked my mirrors and saw a Ford LTD coming up very quickly,” said Firefighter Tanner Hunt. “I didn’t see them slow down at all. I told my guys, ‘Oh, shit, hold on!’”
According to Missouri State Highway Patrol reports, Hunt, 24, had his engine struck in the rear by what was actually a 1986 Ford Crown Victoria. Driven by Jason W. Foalden, 31, of Springfield, the car sustained extensive damage when it struck the 1999 model fire truck. None of the firefighters on board were injured, but Foalden and his passenger, Malorie L. Thomas, 23, also of Springfield, both suffered serious injuries. Neither had been wearing their seat belts; Hunt had been wearing his belt.
Thomas and Foalden both face citations for failure to wear their seat belts. Foalden also faces more serious citations for careless and imprudent driving involving an accident, failure to provide proof of insurance, expired license plates, and driving while his license was suspended, according Trooper C. Stallcup, who had been at the previous crash when the second car struck the fire truck.
The car driven by Foalden was removed by Jack’s Towing; the fire truck could still be driven and left under its own power. Foalden and Thomas were transported to St. John’s Hospital in Lebanon.
Stallcup said the plates on the car driven by Foalden had been expired for several months but it was not Foalden’s vehicle.
While the fire truck had only minor visible damage, the front end of the car was caved in. Fire Capt. Mike Shempert said the damage to the truck — categorized by the state patrol as moderate — was worse than it appeared.
“If you look close at it, it bent the bumper all the way forward,” Shempert said.
That damage created issues with the water lines and the truck is expected to be out of service for an extended period, according to Fire Chief Doug Yurecko.
“It’s our newest truck but that’s not going to change the way we operate,” Yurecko said. “This is why we have multiple engines.”
The damage to the truck is minor compared to what could easily have happened, firefighters said, since a state trooper was standing on the other side of the fire truck which stopped the car from going further. The oncoming car would have struck the trooper’s state patrol car and shoved it into him if the fire engine hadn’t been there, Shempert said.
Yurecko said the placement of the heavy fire engine between crash scenes and oncoming traffic is part of his department’s standard protocol.
“We position our vehicles to protect personnel, and this is why,” Yurecko said. “It barely moved the truck. You’ve got a truck that weighs 36,000 pounds and a car weighing 7,000 pounds, so it doesn’t move much … what happened, unfortunately, shows the importance of fire departments responding even to non-injury crashes.”
Yurecko said Waynesville fire vehicles have been struck three times in the last three years, including a wintertime crash at a different location on Interstate 44 that also prevented injury or death to emergency responders.
“If that truck had not been there, the crash would have been right on top of the people doing extrication.” Yurecko said. “It’s a big deal that the car hit, but I’m tickled to death that the truck was there and did what it was supposed to do: protecting people.”
Stallcup said the incident is a good example of how difficult driving conditions can quickly become dangerous or even deadly with a moment’s lack of attention.
I basically felt that fire truck saved my life and that of the passerby who stopped to help,” Stallcup said.
“It was apparent to me that (the driver) basically was inattentive. It’s a huge fire truck with lights, and he may have been travelling too fast, too,” Stallcup said. “It is very important, especially in inclement weather, for the safety of first responders and paramedics, to obey the signs, emergency lights, and slow down and take it seriously. It wasn’t just absolutely pouring and you could see for quite some distance.”
Foalden’s speed couldn’t be precisely calculated due to lack of evidence, Stallcup said, although the fire truck driver said he was watching his rear-view mirror and heard no sound of brakes or visual indicators that Foalden was trying to slow down.
“Typically when it is wet you are not going to see skid marks; they go away very fast if they are there,” Stallcup said. “He could have tried to stop but there is no evidence of it.”
Foalden’s decision to drive a car belonging to someone else when he had a suspended driver’s license isn’t unusual, Stallcup said, noting that vehicle owners need to make sure they don’t enable people to drive who shouldn’t be driving.
“If somebody is suspended or revoked, there is a reason,” Stallcup said. “Either they have so many points on their license that the state suspends or revokes them, or they were driving while intoxicated or they did not pay child support. It’s a lack of responsibility, and for the most part, these are not very upstanding people if they are not taking care of their tickets or not paying their bills.”
“Having people prevent their friends or family members who are suspended from driving is very important for all the other people on the roadway,” Stallcup said.
The double wreck on Interstate 44 Thursday morning wasn’t the last for the day.
At 11:46 a.m., MoDOT personnel reported that a nearby crash at mile marker 156 of the westbound lanes had shut down the left lane of traffic; that wreck kept the left lane closed until 1:08 p.m. Just a few miles across the county lane in Phelps County, a crash on eastbound I-44 blocked the left lane of traffic from 10:18 a.m. until 10:57 a.m.
Both wrecks blocked traffic but caused no injuries, according to Missouri State Highway Patrol reports.
In other incidents:
• State troopers in Pulaski County reported that they arrested Kyle M. Brandt, 24, of Temple, Texas, at 12:41 a.m. Thursday on charges of driving while intoxicated, first offense, and careless and imprudent driving resulting in an accident. Troopers transported him to the Pulaski County Jail where he was subsequently released.