By DEBBIE HALL
River Helms was headed west on U.S. 58, on his way to Meadows of Dan when he saw what he thought was a fire.
“All I could see was flames and black smoke,” Helms said June 1, the morning after a tractor trailer crash.
The semi had been traveling east on U.S. 58, between Vesta and Stuart (near the foot of Lovers’ Leap Mountain), when the driver allegedly lost control of the vehicle, ran off the right side of the roadway and overturned, according to the Virginia State Police.
The first to arrive at the scene, Helms said the truck was positioned between two truck escape ramps, blocking both lanes of traffic. The cab of the truck cut into the bank on one side of the road. At the other end, the trailer ripped into the guardrail, Helms said.
“It was weird how a truck could cut into the bank like that. It was perfectly even, straight. Like he just laid it over,” Helms said.
The dark smoke Helms initially saw was the result of a blaze that started near a fuel tank, according to Helms, who watched as the driver “walked out of the front windshield.”
The driver seemed disoriented when he first emerged, Helms said. The only apparent injuries he saw were on the driver’s legs.
The driver was wearing a seatbelt at the time of the incident, according to a release from the state police.
The driver “kept talking about getting his phone out of his truck so he could call his family,” Helms said. Concerned the driver would try to venture back inside, Helms offered his cell phone.
After the call, Helms said he was told the brakes went out on the truck. Contents in the trailer spilled across at least one lane and along the shoulder.
“I don’t know what he was hauling, but it was powdery,” Helms said.
Remnants of the debris remained by week’s end.
The May 31 incident marked “the second time he came down here this month,” Helms said he was told at the scene.
“I’m just glad I wasn’t there five minutes earlier. It definitely would have flattened someone,” Helms said, and added that while he was shaken, the incident did not alter his career choice.
“I’m getting a CDL (Commercial Drivers License) to drive a truck,” Helms said.
Senior Trooper N. D. Knight is continuing the investigation of the incident.