DURHAM, N.C. (WNCN) — The driver of a semi-truck that went over an overpass and crashed in wintry conditions Sunday is recovering and expected to survive, Durham police say.
Around 5:30 Sunday afternoon, police said the tractor-trailer went off N.C. 147 as it prepared to cross U.S. 15-501. The cab appeared to land right side up on U.S. 15-501, with the trailer leaning vertically against the bridge for hours — until crews were able to get it down shortly before 9 p.m. Sunday.
A witness to the dramatic crash, Joseph Gilliam, was driving on U.S. 15-501 when he saw the truck go off the bridge.
“He just went straight down the bridge — nose dive, like hit his grill and bounced back up on his tires,” Gilliam said.
Gilliam stopped his car and ran over to the truck’s cab and began talking to the driver, who was alert and complaining of back pain.
Gilliam said seeing the wreck happen was stunning.
“It just looked like something off ‘The Matrix’,” he said, referring to the 1999 science-fiction action film that features extreme visual effects.
While at the scene, Gilliam called his boss and said he would not be coming to work. He decided to stay with the truck driver and said he is surprised the man was not more seriously injured.
“That is just nothing but God. I don’t understand how he was not seriously hurt,” Gilliam said.
Robby Gardner was among the crew members at the scene who worked into the night to remove the trailer.
In 15 years in the towing industry, Gardner said, “This was a first.”
Gardner and his colleagues with Lee’s Towing used three different trucks: two with maximum loads of 75 tons, and another capable of towing 50 tons. Crews put straps under the trailer and pulled from the bottom, on U.S. 15-501, to guide the trailer down.
“Trying to get it off that bridge without tearing anything up was our key factor,” Gardner said.
He added, “Safety is our number one factor” as crews dealt with slick conditions.
Monday, CBS 17 found damage to the guardrail near the overpass in question, which appears to be from Sunday’s wreck. Debris from the truck remains in the median along 15-501.
According to signage on the cab of the semi, the truck belonged to Hagos Trucking, LLC, based in Texas. A company official told CBS 17 Monday, the driver lives in the Raleigh area.
While police did not share specifics on the nature of the driver’s injuries, Gardner pointed out, this could have been much worse had the trailer been full — instead, it was empty.
Still, looking at the damage, Gardner said he is amazed the driver escaped this wreck.
“He’s very fortunate to be alive,” Gardner said. “No doubt.”