Truck driver swims to shore after wreck in Augusta Canal

Police said a truck driver escaped harm Thursday after his truck hit a guardrail on eastbound Interstate 20 and fell into the Augusta Canal.

Around 7:50 a.m., witnesses notified authorities that a 2000 Freightliner box truck had suddenly turned right and hit the rail before disappearing over the side near the River Watch Parkway exit.

Richmond County sheriff’s Cpl. Tommy King said the driver, Brent Whitlock, of Lancaster, S.C., was being treated for minor injuries after he escaped the wreckage and swam to shore. He is being charged with failure to maintain the lane.

Whitlock’s wife is in the area searching for a dog that was in the truck cab with him. Whitlock told deputies he saw the dog, described as a tan collie-type dog weighing 45-50 pounds, swimming away from the truck but never saw it appear on shore.

Authorities said no fuel or items from the truck’s trailer contaminated the canal.

Georgia Department of Transportation crews will arrive Monday to repair the 40 feet of guardrail. The repairs are expected to take a day and a half. The outside east lane will be closed from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. while they work.

“The damage is considered minor considering the magnitude of the accident,” spokeswoman Cissy McNure said in an e-mail Thursday.

Members of the Richmond County Dive Team spent about three hours Thursday morning removing the 26-foot box truck loaded with metal parts in crates from the canal.

Richmond County Fire Department’s Special Operations Chief Wayne Taylor said the truck was almost submerged in the center of the canal when divers arrived.

“It required large wreckers,” Taylor said. “You can imagine a 26-foot box truck full of water and cargo as well.”

First responders said the truck wrecked in the same place where a truck driver died Sept. 2 after his rig plunged into the water. Taylor said the accident in September was much more difficult for divers, taking most of one day to retrieve the burnt wreckage.

Benjamin Cunningham, 54, of Bainbridge, Ga., was driving the 18-wheeler hauling lumber when he hit the guardrail. Authorities believe Cunningham rode the guardrail until it gave way, causing the cab to flip and the diesel tank to rupture and explode. The trailer continued traveling on the bridge until a second portion of the guardrail gave way, sending the trailer off the bridge on top of the cab.

The crash contaminated the canal with fuel and spilled the truck’s cargo of treated lumber.

Fatal wreck threatened Augusta water supply

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