Firefighter Hurt in Leap to Safety
Out-of-Control Semi-Trailer Truck Sends Four Over Railing on I-91
A jackknifed tractor-trailer is removed from the scene of an accident on Interstate 91 North in Windsor early yesterday morning. (Courtesy S.G. Reed Truck Services)
Windsor — A Windsor firefighter who jumped off an Interstate 91 overpass to avoid an out-of-control tractor-trailer truck was recovering from injuries yesterday, officials said.
Molly Wood, a four-year member of the fire department, came away from the estimated 25- to 30-foot drop with a concussion, cuts and bruises and a likely broken ankle, Fire Chief Mark Kirko said.
“She’s very lucky that she actually survived the fall,” Kirko said, adding that Wood’s helmet and turnout gear likely provided protection as she hit the pavement.
Rick Adams, a spokesman for Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, said that Wood was in “satisfactory” condition yesterday afternoon.
Though Wood’s was the only serious injury from the event that started above County Road early yesterday morning, it was only part of a wild few minutes that saw at least five vehicles — including three semi-trailer trucks — lose control on the icy interstate.
The initial call was made to Vermont State Police at 2:15 a.m., police said. While heading northbound on the highway, C.J. Stevens, of Delhi, N.Y., lost control of his Dodge Caravan minivan and hit a guardrail.
Police and the Windsor Fire Department responded, and determined Stevens was uninjured.
Soon after, Douglas Bennett, of Springfield, Vt., lost control on his Honda Accord on the icy curve leading to the same overpass and also hit a guardrail. Two Windsor firefighters, Wood and Cory Austin, went to check on him, said Kirko, who was also on the scene.
Austin began walking north with Bennett down the length of the bridge. Wood lagged about 100 feet behind.
A northbound tractor-trailer truck lost control on the same curve and struck the Accord.
Austin and Bennett began to run, Kirko said. They cleared the span and leapt over the guardrail, falling three or four feet to the grassy embankment and were uninjured.
Wood was forced to scramble over the guardrail where the distance to the road below was far higher. A sign on the overpass says the distance from the underside to County Road is 14 feet.
North of the bridge, farther from the out-of-control truck, tow-truck operator Richard Meunier was in the process of hooking up the minivan to the tow bed. He too went over the guardrail and landed farther up the embankment from Austin and Bennett.
“I looked up,” Meunier said, “and I saw a body flying through the air.”
Jan Fournier, of Coaticook, Quebec, was operating the errant tractor trailer, which ended up hitting Bennett’s Accord and pushing it into the back of a Windsor fire truck.
Yesterday, debris — a twisted piece of metal, a shard of headlight cover — dotted the slushy embankment on County Road. A set of footsteps stretched from the pavement up the embankment to the I-91 guardrail.
A man who answered the telephone in Wood’s room at DHMC declined to comment on her behalf. Austin did not return a message seeking comment.
“I figured this tractor-trailer was coming over the guardrail,” Meunier said.
He recalled Kirko and a Vermont State Police officer asking if he was hurt, and said he turned their attention toward Wood , who had landed on the pavement.
As Kirko began to head toward his command vehicle to get medical supplies, another tractor trailer lost control.
“I got right about here,” Kirko said yesterday, standing in the firehouse, about one-third down the length of the fire truck.
Realizing he didn’t have time to make a run for it, Kirko threw open the driver’s side door of the truck and dove across the middle console and into the passenger’s seat.
The tractor-trailer truck ended up hitting the fire truck’s side view mirror and scraping its front.
According to police, the truck’s trailer had struck another tractor-trailer, which struck the back of the truck that first sent people scrambling over the guardrail.
Bennett and Michel Drolet, the driver of the third truck, were brought to Mt. Ascutney Hospital with minor injuries.
The fire truck itself suffered only minor, cosmetic damage, Kirko said yesterday.
After the series of tractor trailer crashes — all of which took place over a period of about two minutes, Kirko said — police closed I-91 between exits 8 and 9, detouring drivers down Route 5. The highway remained closed until about 7:30 a.m. yesterday.
Scott Reed, of S.G. Reed Truck Services Inc., He said that everything on the northbound side last night seemed to have a “glaze of ice” atop it.
“It was super slippery,” Reed said. “It was very hard, even, to stand up.”
Kirko said all the trucks and cars were ultimately towed.
“It was carnage,” Kirko said. “It was absolutely carnage.”
Jon Wolper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 603-727-3248.