BRUNSWICK, Ga. - The driver of a tractor-trailer truck hauling paper towels died when his rig burst into flames after plunging off Interstate 95 between the spans of the Altamaha River bridge Thursday afternoon.
Authorities withheld the trucker's name pending notification of his next of kin. He was alone in the truck when the crash occurred about 1:30 p.m., state troopers said.
He was driving north when the truck suddenly veered to the left and hit a guardrail. A witness told police it appeared the driver might have been reaching for something right before the truck hit it. The truck then tumbled over the rail between the north- and southbound spans of the bridge and fell onto the ground below, troopers said.
The rear of the trailer lay burning at the edge of the riverbank.
McIntosh County emergency personnel scrambled down the bridge embankment to reach the truck, which continued to burn almost two hours after the crash.
'A matter of seconds'
Pedro Solorzano said he was picking up construction barrels along I-95 for TIC traffic control and was preparing to pull back onto the roadway when he saw two tractor-trailer rigs coming over the bridge.
The lead truck, which was traveling in the second lane from the left on the four-lane bridge, began veering to the left, Solorzano said.
"He went into the barrier wall and went over,'' Solozano said. "It was just a matter of seconds and it was burning,'' he said.
The impact tore the cab apart and one of the front wheels and an axle landed about 20 feet from the crushed cab. The frame was twisted and paper towels lay scattered.
Darien Police Chief Donnie Howard said firefighters almost had the fire out, but that the strong wind whipped it up again. Officials brought in a couple of back hoes to push the wrecked trailer apart so firefighters could get water on the burning cases of paper towels that sent up thick white smoke.
Because the fire was so hot, it took firefighters and rescue personnel a long time to cool the cab enough to free the driver's body.
Firefighters kept the flames from spreading. Although some of the bank is swampy beneath the bridge, authorities were concerned gusting winds could carry embers to the grassy interstate median or marsh and woods nearby, said Capt. Jim Kelly of the Glynn County Police Department.
Glynn police assisted with traffic control. One northbound lane was closed for about an hour following the crash, troopers said.