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Semi crashes through restaurant

Updated

 

Last updated 2/25/2020 at 6:37pm

The scene of the wreck at 1:12 p.m. The demolished semi is at the bottom of the photo, the damaged restaurant and overturned burned car above it. - Scott Hunter photo

A semi loaded with boxes of apples crashed through a corner of Hometown Pizza at lunchtime today, hurting no one inside but seriously injuring the driver, who may have chosen to avoid two cars in front of him at the intersection.

The semi tractor was pulling a refrigerated van that was demolished in a ravine below the restaurant. And a car parked in front of the restaurant exploded as the back of the trailer sent it flying into the signpost advertising the restaurant.

The car's blackened remains were hauled off.

The Washington State Patrol is still investigated the cause of the crash near the Four-Corners intersection of SR-174 and SR-155. The Patrol said the 52-year-old truck driver is from Opa-Locka, Florida. Peirre Oles was flown to Sacred Hearth Medical Center in Spokane.

Witnesses told The Star they saw the big rig headed at a high rate of speed headed down the hill on SR-174, the highway coming from Bridgeport, mostly in the correct lane, but tilting before the "trailer kept going."

It took out the canopy in front of the pizza restaurant and left its back trailer door wedged into the opening in the corner of the restaurant created by the crash. No one was sitting in that corner booth at the time.

That hadn't been the case just seconds earlier, Terry Ayres told KHQ news. His wife and granddaughter had just sat down there, but 5-year-old Hadley wanted to move, so they did.

"Forty-five seconds later, bam!" Ayers said. His wife, Peggy Nachtigal, covered her granddaughter to shield her. "Stuff was flying everywhere," he said.

Outside, their Toyota Camry was thrown by the back of the tailer into the restaurant's signpost and exploded.

The front end of the rig, the tractor, apparently struck the big state highway sign on the roadway some 40 or 50 feet away as the rig traveled sideways.

The whole rig went "airborne" according to witnesses.

Hank Wiebe had just pulled onto SR-155 as he left the hardware store down the street and headed toward that intersection. "It looked like a big bomb went off," he said.

Electric City Fire Chief Mark Payne was at the intersection at the time, heard the crash and looked up to see "the semi mostly sideways, airborne," he said.

A man named Jesse, who'd been working on a ladder outside the gas station on the other side of the intersection, saw the semi as it "blasted right through a car," he said. "It flew ... it was airborne," he said. "It happened so fast."

And it was surreal, observed Nick Miles, who said the semi passed by him as he walked down the highway toward North Cascades Bank, across the street from the Hometown Pizza.

"I would say it was going about 70 mph by the time it was at the hospital (just before it reached the restaurant). It's like the brakes stopped working. It started losing balance and veering into the middle of the road, then tipped once the road started curving."

Miles said another vehicle had been traveling the same direction right in front of the semi, and another vehicle was stopped at the intersection as the truck barreled forward, but then veered.

Several passers by got Oles out of the wrecked semi cab as diesel was pouring out. One of them said the driver, still in the cab, said his brakes had failed.

Terry Ayres inspects Peggy Nachtigal's burned car, apples from the truck to the side.

Jeff Green said he and Anthony Moulton were driving from Electric City and about to turn left at that intersection, where two vehicles were at the stop sign in front of the oncoming truck.

"If he would have made the corner and hit the two (vehicles), we would have been right there," Green said.

As it was, he, Moulton and George Davis, Jr., who faced the "semi truck in the air" as he was waiting to turn left toward Electric City, all rushed to the aid of the driver upside down in the cab. Payne was right behind them, and Rich Gerard arrived with a sledge hammer to break the front windshield. They cut his seatbelt, pulled him out and got him to the roadside where an ambulance could retrieve him.

"No one was meant to die today," Ayres said, glad the truck driver had survived.

 

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