Birmingham News blogger Don Kausler Jr. shares his harrowing experience as an 18-wheeler collides with traffic stopped on Interstate 20 from a previous accident:
A few Alabama football fans who were returning early this morning from Saturday night’s 34-24 victory over Virginia in Atlanta are lucky to be alive.
So is this blogger.
How I happened to be on westbound Interstate 20 roughly 25 miles east of Birmingham at 3:30 a.m. today is a long story.
How I and others escaped death is a miracle.
I was among a group of vehicles that came to a halt near mile marker 147, just before the Brompton exit. Several vehicles ahead of us were involved in a serious wreck, and a truck turned sideways was blocking all lanes and shoulders of westbound traffic.
So we sat there, stuck. And nervous. Because behind us was a downhill curve, and behind that curve, we knew big trucks were rumbling on the highway. For three or four minutes, some people got out of their vehicles and walked around.
I stayed in my ’96 Toyota pickup truck. And I watched in my rearview mirror. What I soon saw was a streak of light. Then I heard metal screeching against concrete. And I felt the earth quake.
A big rig loaded with two trailers came squeezing between an 18-wheeler and the concrete median barrier. It sideswiped the Dodge Ram pickup truck to my left, knocking it into my truck. And then the big rig slammed violently into the 18-wheeler that was turned sideways.
Somehow, someway, nobody in this second accident was injured seriously. But we were all shaken up.
Joel Tallant of Tuscaloosa was driving the Dodge Ram. His friend Jonathan McAlister of Tupelo, Miss., was a passenger. They had been to the game, as had many other bystanders.
Tallant wasn’t in his truck when it was hit hard. He had walked ahead to see what had happened.
McAlister was in the passenger seat.
“I was sitting there in the truck, kind of laid back, relaxed,” he said. “Then I just saw some bright lights headed my way. To be honest, I thought it was over for me. I thought I was going to die.
“It was just a blur. I saw it coming. Then I heard ba-boom, boom, boom. I felt the ground shake. You try to brace yourself. It was crazy. My adrenaline was rushing so quickly, I didn’t feel a thing.”
Diesel fuel was spilled everywhere, making the pavement slick. A trooper guessed 150 gallons were spilled. Hazmat workers were called in.
“What was even crazier was, I had just seen the movie ‘Final Destination,'” McAlister said. “It’s about freak accidents. I thought it was my moment right there. With all that gas leaking, I thought, ‘What if I just avoided death, and then that truck blows up and it takes my life?'”
Tallant was surveying the scene of the first accident. The driver of one of the vehicles, a sports car that had raced past many of us miles back up the highway, was sitting on the rail of a bridge that crossed a gully. Mud and rocks were 30 feet below.
“I saw him sitting there,” Tallant said, “but when I saw the transfer truck coming, I thought, ‘Man, this is going to be bad.’ I took my eye off of him. I was worried about my buddy in my truck. Next thing I knew, that guy was gone. He jumped off the bridge.”
Trooper Chad Joiner said five people were transported to a hospital from the scene. Only the man who jumped off the bridge was injured seriously. He was airlifted to a hospital.
I was on this scene until 7:30 a.m. My truck was able to start. The damage was minor. And hour later, westbound traffic on I-20 was flowing again.
Now … why was I there in the first place? Here’s the short story: I had stayed Friday night in the South Carolina house that my wife and I are trying to sell. I had a reservation at an Atlanta hotel for Friday and Saturday nights, but despite telling a clerk days in advance that I would be checking in very late Saturday, my room was gone when I arrived. With a NASCAR race in Atlanta this weekend in addition to the Alabama-Virginia Tech game, hotel rooms were scarce in Atlanta. So I hit the highway.
Forgive me for not providing you more blog posts so far today. And forgive this post for not being much about football. I am a little tired. And very thankful to be alive.
By the way, my four-hour delay gave me a chance to talk about Alabama football with many fanatics.
“What an awesome game!” McAlister said.