October 4, 2013

Cohutta man on the scene of deadly I-40 crash

Rachel Brown

— Daniel Weller Sr. has been driving a tractor-trailer rig for 30 years, but he’s never seen anything like the fatal crash Wednesday on Interstate 40 east of Knoxville, Tenn..

Weller, who lives in Cohutta and is a driver for a local trucking company, said he and student driver Barry Morton of Murfreesboro, Tenn., were on I-40 when they came upon a deadly crash shortly after it occurred. Eight people died and 14 more were injured, according to news reports, when a North Carolina church bus carrying a group of older adults blew a tire, crossed the median and crashed into an SUV and a tractor-trailer.

Weller said he, like several other witnesses, began taking pictures of the scene. Then he realized no one was helping.

“There were just a few people on scene, but they weren’t doing anything,” he said. “They were just standing there taking pictures. It was obvious somebody needed to do something, so we got out and started doing something.”

Weller said he grabbed the fire extinguisher on board his rig, Morton borrowed another trucker’s extinguisher, and they worked to help an individual they learned was an off-duty emergency medical technician doing what he could.

“Inasmuch as we kept the fire from spreading, probably (we helped),” Weller said. “I proceeded to try to comfort and cover up some of the people outside the bus, and then I went inside with some other people before the first responders (arrived to try to assist).”

Weller said he didn’t know anyone involved in the crash. It was a gruesome scene when he pulled up. Photos from the day show some of the victims lain out on the ground while billows of smoke ascend above flames enveloping the front of the tractor-trailer. Morton called 911. Weller said he was afraid when he first saw what happened.

“I always thought I would go toward danger to help, but I found out for sure that I would go toward it,” he said. “I thought about it for two seconds, that I might get blown up, but I put it out of my mind.”

Weller, who said he also witnessed the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center from a distance, described the wreck as one of the worst things he’s ever seen. The tractor-trailer driver died in the crash as did one person in the SUV and six of the 18 individuals on the church bus.