Ill. Responders Give Testimony in Fatal. Highway Crash

March 11--BLOOMINGTON -- Hudson firefighters had mere seconds to brace for the impact of a 74,000-pound semitrailer truck that crashed into a line of emergency vehicles last year, killing one firefighter, according to testimony Tuesday in the reckless homicide trial of the truck driver.

Chris Brown, a Bloomington fireman who was working as a volunteer Hudson firefighter when he was killed March 5, 2013, was outside a fire department command vehicle when he was struck by the semitrailer truck. Mansur Shakirov, 29, of Spokane, Wash., is accused of failing to move over and reduce speed to avoid hitting the stopped emergency vehicles.

The jury heard from Hudson Fire Chief Daniel Hite, Assistant Chief Jeff Thomas and five firefighters about the incident that started as a call for an accident involving two trucks on a night Interstate 39 near Hudson was icy but visibility was clear despite some blowing snow.

Hite put the crash into descriptive terms: "tearing metal, ripping metal, a very large boom. Then another large boom. Then it was eerily quiet."

Hite recalled seeing "the largest semi I've ever seen in my life" approaching from the north in the left lane where an ambulance, a fire truck, a state police squad car and a Chevy Tahoe command vehicle were wrapping up their work at the scene. He said the assistant chief also was watching the truck and began yelling "he's not stopping, he's not stopping. Run!"

The officers who were outside their vehicles ran for safety, into snow-filled ditches and into the median of the interstate.

Several of Brown's relatives became distraught and left the courtroom during the testimony of Hudson Fire Lieutenant Jason Brutlag who saw the collision.

"It almost looked like the vehicle exploded," Brutlag said of the crash that created a domino effect that damaged several other vehicles and injured four firefighters. Although he did not know it was Brown at the time, Brutlag saw a firefighter in the air, his arms outstretched, then "he disappeared into the lights, like he got swallowed up."

An immediate check of the well-being of officers showed everyone accounted for except Brown who was found on the ground, badly injured. Brutlag performed CPR for more than 20 minutes but the victim remained unresponsive, said Brutlag.

All of the firefighters agreed in their testimony that the scene was well lit, with arrows directing drivers into the right lane. away from emergency vehicles. Other drivers slowed down as they approached the hazardous conditions, according to the statements.

In opening statements, Assistant State's Attorney John Shim said Shakirov told a state trooper he was going no more than 50 mph when he struck the Hudson fire vehicle.

"It was like a bomb," Shim said of the crash.

Gramm said in opening remarks that Shakirov was driving before the speed limit during what he defined as "a tragedy to be sure."

Brown's widow, Amy, was the state's first witness. She was only on the stand for a brief time, and identified a photo of her husband. She broke down when asked to tell the date of Brown's death.

Brown worked as a Bloomington firefighter and volunteered with the Hudson department. He was described as a mentor, devoted husband and father.

State troopers who were on the scene and investigated the fatal crash are expected to be among the witnesses when the trial continues Wednesday.

Copyright 2014 - The Pantagraph, Bloomington, Ill.

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