CASCO TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Passersby are being credited with saving the life of a trucker who rolled his gasoline-filled tanker north of South Haven early Monday.
The truck — which was hauling more than 8,000 gallons of fuel — crashed around 3:15 a.m. on the exit ramp from northbound I-196 to 109th Avenue/Pullman Road in Casco Township.
The semi rolled off the side of the road. The driver was thrown from the truck and ended up on the ground just outside the cab.
The tanker then burst into flames. By the time South Haven Area Emergency Services Chief Ron Wise got an alert calling him to the scene, he could see the tower of flames from about a mile away.
“We’ve got massive fire,” he described what he saw as he arrived at the scene. “But down in the ditch, I’ve got three bystanders waving at us.”
Those passersby had saved the day.
“The bystanders actually found him (the truck driver) next to his truck. They pulled him away from the scene about 150 feet. They looked back and where he was at is now engulfed in flames,” Wise told 24 Hour News 8. “Truly, they put their lives on the line. We wear protective equipment when we do that. They’re doing it with just the clothes on their back.”
Wise said firefighters would not likely have made it to the scene in time to rescue the driver. He says the people he called “life savers” are the reason the driver is still alive.
“These are truly three life savers that stopped by and made a difference in his life … They truly saved his life today,” he continued. “It’s a true blessing for this gentleman not to have perished in the fire.”
The trucker, 45-year-old Michael Bennett of the Benton Harbor area, was taken by ambulance to an area hospital for treatment of non-life-threatening injuries.
Bennett’s mother told 24 Hour News 8 that he sustained a spinal cord injury and likely has a long road of rehabilitation ahead of him. She said he has been transferred to a hospital in Kalamazoo for further treatment.
The good Samaritans were identified by the Allegan County Sheriff’s Office as Jeff Hunter of Gaylord; Shawn Crittendon, who was headed to the Chicago area; and Chad Edgington of Illinois.
A fourth man, Scott Weber, told 24 Hour News 8 he also helped remove Bennett from the wreck but took off before authorities showed up because he’s also a trucker and he had a deadline to meet.
Wise said the city would likely honor the good Samaritans with awards.
“If they hadn’t acted, I think we could be looking at a very bad story here this morning,” Wise said. “To me, it’s a testament that there’s still good people out there.”
Bennett’s family members said they would like to meet the good Samaritans and take them out to dinner.
The exit ramp from northbound I-196 to 109th Avenue/Pullman Road remained shut down Monday morning as firefighters let the fire burn itself out because of environmental concerns. Smoke and flames could be seen coming from the truck until after 7 a.m. As the sun rose, the damage was clear: barely a shell of the truck remained.
The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality was called in to assess the scene. Wise said they would collect soil samples to determine if contamination is an issue. He did not suspect air quality was a problem in the area.
Fire officials said early indications were that the driver took the ramp too fast and lost control. The Allegan County Sheriff’s Office is in charge of the investigation to pinpoint a cause and said Monday afternoon that speed was believed to be a factor. The ramp has a 25 mph speed limit and the sheriff’s office said it “is a challenging exit structure.”
Earlier Monday afternoon, an official with Pac Trucking out of Kankakee, Illinois, which owns the tanker, told 24 Hour News 8 the driver was trying to avoid three deer that were on the ramp.