Accident halts traffic for hours

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 19, 2003

Suffolk News-Herald

Traffic in Suffolk came to a screeching halt early Friday morning, and once it did begin to move again, it was creep and beep all the way. For a radius of three miles around downtown Suffolk, vehicles were backed up and drivers angrily shook their fists and fumed as they sat in a traffic snarl that has never before been seen in this city. One driver impatiently lay upon his horn and the area around Constance Road and North Main Street sounded like a cacophony of angry geese on a rampage.

For all the good it did them; drivers still had to sit and wait. They were blocked in the backup of vehicles caused by a 2:23 a.m. accident in the eastbound lane of Route 58 at the Wilroy Road exit.

Email newsletter signup

The accident took place when a tractor-trailer allegedly drifted over into the path of a moving van, striking the &uot;saddle tank,&uot; a gas tank, on the side of the van. The resulting explosion blew the tractor-trailer’s cargo of carpet, carpet pads and seaming tape over an area of more than 100 yards.

&uot;That truck exploded and it woke up most of the residents in the vicinity of Wilroy Road,&uot; said one resident who did not want to be named. &uot;We’ve never seen or heard anything like it.&uot;

The 1997 Volvo tractor-trailer was driven by 41-year old Sammie Frank Needham, of Oak Ridge, N.C. He was transported to Obici Hospital where he was treated for second-degree burns to his legs, arms, back, and head. Flames leaping high into the early morning sky devoured the tractor-trailer.

Suffolk resident Harvey Rasberry, 44, of Widgeon Court, escaped serious injury and the Peterbilt truck he drove was taken away from the scene by Chip’s Towing Service. The tractor-trailer sustained $80,000 in damages.

As the noon hour approached, hungry employees and shoppers in search of Easter gifts hurried out to their vehicles, jumped in and head off to do their quick lunchtime duties. Were they shocked when they did manage to inch their way into the &uot;flow&uot; of traffic! That stream crept to a crawl and finally stopped.

Then, it was the Suffolk Police Department to the rescue as cops fled their duty assignments only to hurriedly strap on bright orange safety vests and step out into the mess of tangled traffic. Their squad cars sat just as idly as the rest, but warning others of an impending problem. Flashing strobe lights on the emergency vehicles seemed to reflect the feelings of the canned humanity spread across the city.

The officers jumped into the intersections, whistles blaring and white-gloved hands a-waving! Some held emergency light sticks to help drivers traffic see their way through the tons of metal waiting along the streets.

One officer at the top of &uot;McDonald’s hill,&uot; angrily tweeted his whistle, blowing so hard the pea threatened to pop through the air passage. Swinging his arms wildly in the proper direction, he simply wanted the driver of a vehicle headed toward him to move a little faster. It was obvious, the little old lady was terrified and not quite sure what she was to do with traffic lights all flashing red and cops in the middle of the street waving like they’d lost their minds.

They were, however, just doing their jobs, or at least trying to. Traffic began to inch along and it wasn’t long until the officers got the message across to the drivers and they began to understand; drive in the direction in which the police officer is directing you.

About 15 hours after it all began, the mess was almost gone. But it wasn’t over until a monster &uot;milling machine&uot; was brought in from Richmond. It was there to remove burnt asphalt from the highway.

The fire had burned three inches down into the pavement at the scene of the accident. Blair Brothers of Suffolk came in with their equipment to renew that entire section of highway. They expected to complete the work by nightfall Friday.