CHATTANOOGA, TN - At 11:30 am, August 9, 2006, the 9-1-1 communications center in Chattanooga received calls reporting a motor vehicle accident in the 1500 block of Interstate 24. Further information received was that the wreck involved two tractor trailers, one of which was on fire. Information was also coming in that someone was trapped in one of the trucks.
Chattanooga Fire Department initially responded Engine 20 and Engine 1. When the information about entrapment was received, Squad 1 and Squad 4 were also dispatched. While en route, Engine 20 advised that a large column of black smoke could be seen from a distance away. At that point the Battalion Chief ordered Engine 14 to respond with a tanker from Station 20 and also requested Tanker 17.
Engine 20 arrived on scene and reported two tractor trailers involved. The vehicles were eastbound at the 173.4 mile marker. One tractor trailer was on its side and fully involved. The officer from Engine 20 stated they were putting a 1 3/4 inch line into service. He also told all responding units to come westbound in the eastbound lanes from Cummings Highway which is the closest entrance/exit east of the scene. It was later advised that the tractor trailer on fire was carrying produce.
The Battalion Chief arrived on scene and took command. As additional units arrived they began suppression activities along with Engine 20. The driver of the second vehicle was located safe and sound however, it was believed that the driver of the rig on fire was trapped in the fire.
The driver of the second 18 wheeler, Gary Peoples, stated that he was eastbound on I-24 with the other truck following him all the way from Monteagle Mountain. Just prior to the accident, the other truck "pulled out to pass and began to come in my lane. I blew the horn at him and tried to reach him on the cb radio but he didn't answer. He kept coming into my lane, hit me, hit the guard rail and flipped." Mr. Peoples further stated that he thought he was going to go over the guard rail and was thankful he did not. He was unhurt in the accident.
Sgt. Tom Layne of the Chattanooga Police Department described the accident. He said that the truck on fire was passing the second truck when it drifted into the right lane. The driver of the second vehicle, Mr. Peoples, made every effort to avoid the accident but could not. The front end of his truck was clipped, the striking truck hit the bridge abutment, rolled onto its side and burst into flames. Sgt. Layne said that several good Samaritans tried breaking windows in the truck to pull the driver out but could not reach him due to the intensity of the fire. The driver was pronounced dead at the scene.
Sgt. Layne stated that he expected the east bound lanes of the Interstate to be closed for several hours while the Chattanooga Police Department Traffic Division investigated the accident. Westbound lanes were also clogged and moving at a snail's pace due to onlookers. He said none of the people who attempted the rescue were injured, and thanked the public for their valiant efforts. He also praised members of the Chattanooga Fire Department for their quick response and outstanding efforts in the extreme heat. Not only did they battle the high temperatures but also the heat of the raging fire.
State investigators will be examining the bridge for possible damage however, Sgt. Layne said he felt the damage was superficial in nature and did not expect any problems in that regard.
Tennessee DOT assisted with traffic. The Chattanooga Hamilton County Rescue provided much needed rehab for the police and firefighters on scene.