Wayward cell phone leads to fiery accident

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

A tractor-trailer struck a road construction safety vehicle, broke an axle and burst into flames Tuesday on Interstate 55 in southern Perry County.

The J.B. Hunt company truck driven by Benny E. Sellers, 40, of Festus, Mo., was headed north when it hit the slow-moving safety vehicle shortly after 11 a.m., said Missouri State Highway Patrol Sgt. Ken Robinson.

"There was a road crew putting in rumble strips along the shoulder with a truck at the rear with a directional arrow," said patrol trooper Jarrod Thomas "The truck was used as a block to protect the road crew and the tractor-trailer hit the rear end of that vehicle."

Sellers had dropped his cellular telephone in his truck and was distracted trying to retrieve it, Robinson said. "When he looked up, he was up on it so close he couldn't avoid it."

When the axle broke, he said, the tractor-trailer cab section hit the ground and the fuel tanks ruptured, sparking the fire.

The flames quickly consumed the rig, with heat so intense tires on the tractor-trailer exploded, said truck driver Roger Donney, who was driving southbound for Beacon Transport of Nashville, Tenn.

"I saw the smoke from about three miles away," Donney said.

As he approached the scene, Donney said, highway patrol cars sped past him.

"By the time I closed that two miles or so," Donney said, "the state patrolmen had closed both lanes and wheels and tires were exploding off the tractor and flying across the median like someone catapulted them."

At one point, Donney said, two firefighters were knocked about 10 feet back to the ground from the concussion of an exploding tire.

"There were three explosions that I heard," Donney said.

Neither firefighter sustained serious injuries.

Firefighters from the Biehle Rural Fire District and the Perryville Fire Department helped put out the blaze, Thomas said.

The trailer compartment, adorned with a Budweiser beer logo, was empty at the time of the accident.

Truck fires following accidents are fairly common, Donney said. He was carrying a load from Moline, Ill., to Thibodaux, La., when he was delayed by the wreck and fire.

rkeller@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 126

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