SALADO — Alan Shaw, a Corsicana-based truck driver, was on his way to Dallas when he saw a frightening sight Thursday morning on Interstate 35 in Salado.
At about 3 a.m., Shaw came over the top of a hill just as a big fireball lit up the sky a few vehicles ahead of him.
A FedEx truck hauling tandem trailers ignited on northbound I-35 after crashing near mile marker 285. The two men inside the truck managed to escape the blaze that consumed the cab and trailers, authorities said. The accident closed the freeway for about eight hours before it re-opened.
Shaw said he talked to the men who escaped the fire.
“The driver was a trainee and the other guy was his trainer,” Shaw said. “They came down the hill, hit a water puddle and felt the trailer start hydroplaning. He said the trailer jackknifed around him, and the tractor went up and over the concrete barrier and burst into flames.”
At one time the fire was around the windows of the cab, forcing the driver to open the door and jump out, Shaw said. The driver hurt his knee but, with so much adrenalin, he didn’t really feel any pain.
“But as the hours went on, they took the driver to Scott & White (Memorial) Hospital because his kneecap was swelling really big and he was starting to lose feeling in his foot,” Shaw said.
The trainer had a black eye from his glasses, Shaw said. The trainer went back to the truck at one point to get his things out and just cleared the area when the cab went up in flames.
By the time the fire finished, all that was left of the cab was the frame and the engine, Shaw said.
Shaw took his cellphone to go film the fire and to take pictures, and kept hearing “pow, pow, pow,” he said.
“The next thing I know the drivers are talking about ammunition in the trailers, and I realized I shouldn’t be there, so I got out of there,” Shaw said.
The trailers were hauling ammunition and boots, he said.
Shaw said it took a while for the fire trucks to get there, and they ran out of water two or three times. The truck was engulfed again each time the firefighters came back with water, Shaw said.
Firefighters from Salado, Bartlett, Holland, Central Bell Fire Rescue and Southwestern Bell departments worked to put out the fire, Salado Fire Chief Shane Berrier said.
Berrier said diesel fuel and debris had to be cleaned up after the fire was extinguished and cooled down some. His department finally cleared the scene just before 1 p.m.
Shaw walked back to the area after the fire was out and saw lots of .38 caliber bullets everywhere, as well as a few .50 caliber shells.
This is the second FedEx tractor-trailer accident in March in Bell County. The first accident was March 10 on northbound I-35 in Temple. That truck also caught fire and burned, almost taking the life of its driver.
Traffic diverted, another accident
Once again, I-35 traffic was diverted Thursday since both the northbound and southbound lanes were closed for about eight hours.
Traffic was sent through both Holland and Little River-Academy before 8 a.m., Holland Police Chief Shawn Newsom said. He started directing traffic through Holland at about 7:45 a.m., he said.
All northbound traffic was diverted to Holland and southbound was sent down State Highway 95 from Temple. Traffic finally became manageable at about 11:15 a.m., Newsom said.
Before traffic settled down, though, Newsom was hit at about 10:45 a.m. by a woman driving a vehicle and was thrown up onto on its hood at the intersection of SH 95 and Main Street. He didn’t go to the hospital, but kept on directing traffic.
Adding to the traffic issues was an 18-wheeler that jackknifed at the intersection of FM 2269 and SH 95 and had to be removed, Newsom said.
I-35 isn’t Shaw’s normal route, he said. He usually runs toward West Texas.
“The construction sucks. They just need to finish it, but by the time they finish one section, they start tearing up something else,” he said.
Shaw talked about the narrow spaces between concrete barriers in the construction zones.
“There is no room for mistakes. I kid you not. If two 18-wheelers are side-by-side, in some spots the barriers are so close together there is barely a foot between trucks and a foot on each side of them. You just throw on your brakes and hopefully you can stop,” he said.
Texas Department of Transportation spokesman Ken Roberts responded to Shaw’s comments.
“You just don’t do that. Make sure you have adequate space to pass. There will be an opportunity to pass more safely, even if they have to wait a while,” Roberts said. “And there were shoulders in the area where the accident happened.”
Shaw mentioned the water on the road.
“You don’t see the imperfections of the road when you’re driving 65 to 70 mph. But today I’ve been looking at the road while we’ve been waiting. It has dips, low spots and water standing. The trucks lose traction,” Shaw said.
“It is possible water was on the road and we’ll be taking a look to see,” Roberts said. “In construction zones things change on a regular basis. But we know from witnesses that speed was definitely a contributing factor.”
Witnesses told stories of the FedEx truck passing them at high speed, and the witnesses said they were afraid something was going to happen, Roberts said.
“You have to drive to conditions. Was inclement weather a factor? Absolutely. And speed? Absolutely,” Roberts said.
Some of the barriers were knocked into the southbound lanes, Shaw said.
“They will be put back in place. Some work to repair portions of them might be necessary, but that will likely take place at night,” Roberts said.