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Driver rescued after I-81 wreck

A Mississippi man was trapped in his tractor-trailer truck for almost 90 minutes Monday as rescuers devised a way to remove him from the tractor as it lay perched across one side of the New River Bridge on Interstate 81.
Claude E. Armstead, 52, of Batesville, Miss., found himself trapped some 90 feet above the ground after he lost control of the rig, took out about 200 feet of guardrail, and then struck the right retaining wall of the bridge.
State Police First Sgt. Mike Honaker said the front axle of the tractor came apart, leaving the cab hanging over the bridge, near the Pulaski County-Montgomery County line around the 105 mile marker.
“This was a very unusual crash. By the time the vehicle came to rest, the cab of the truck was actually hanging over the bridge in a very precarious position,” Honaker said. “The vehicle, including the driver, was perched about 80 to 90 feet above the ground, and there was no way to immediately remove the driver, even though he was obviously injured and concerned about where he ended up.”
Honaker said several different ways to remove Armstead were considered, including cutting a hole through the back of the cab. However, rescuers decided to bring in a ladder fire truck from Radford City and used its extension ladder to reach the driver.
According to Sgt. M.T. Conroy, Armstead was removed from the truck at 10:20 a.m.
“I can’t say enough about the fire department. They did an exceptional job in developing a plan to safely remove Mr. Armstead from a very dangerous situation,” Honaker said.
State Police said Armstead indicated he was northbound in the 2002 Freightliner when he lit a cigarette and began to choke and cough. Honaker said Armstead indicated he may have passed out.
According to Honaker, Armstead was traveling around 70 miles per hour when he lost control. Conroy said evidence suggests the truck gradually veered off the side of the road for 580 feet prior to impact with the retaining wall.
The driver was taken to New River Valley Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries.
Armstead has been charged with reckless driving, State Police said.
The truck was registered to Williamson Farms Trucking, Inc. of Charleston, Miss.
The northbound lanes of the interstate were closed for almost two hours, causing a significant traffic back-up. As of 3:10 p.m., only one lane of the northbound side of I-81 was open due to ongoing clean-up operations.
An estimated 175 to 200 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from the truck as it hung from the bridge, but none of it was spilled near the New River.
Conroy said getting traffic flowing again after one of the northbound lanes of the interstate was reopened at 12:15 p.m. was a difficult task. Traffic was backed up as far as the 98.5 mile marker before the lane was reopened.
One minor wreck was reported at the 101 mile marker as the result of the backup.
Plus, Conroy said, one woman stuck in the traffic exited her vehicle and accidentally locked her keys inside, and the battery on an electric hybrid vehicle died so the vehicle would not restart.
Conroy said Armstead was hauling computers.

Driver rescued after I-81 wreck

A Mississippi man was trapped in his tractor-trailer truck for almost 90 minutes Monday as rescuers devised a way to remove him from the tractor as it lay perched across one side of the New River Bridge on Interstate 81.
Claude E. Armstead, 52, of Batesville, Miss., found himself trapped some 90 feet above the ground after he lost control of the rig, took out about 200 feet of guardrail, and then struck the right retaining wall of the bridge.
State Police First Sgt. Mike Honaker said the front axle of the tractor came apart, leaving the cab hanging over the bridge, near the Pulaski County-Montgomery County line around the 105 mile marker.
“This was a very unusual crash. By the time the vehicle came to rest, the cab of the truck was actually hanging over the bridge in a very precarious position,” Honaker said. “The vehicle, including the driver, was perched about 80 to 90 feet above the ground, and there was no way to immediately remove the driver, even though he was obviously injured and concerned about where he ended up.”
Honaker said several different ways to remove Armstead were considered, including cutting a hole through the back of the cab. However, rescuers decided to bring in a ladder fire truck from Radford City and used its extension ladder to reach the driver.
According to Sgt. M.T. Conroy, Armstead was removed from the truck at 10:20 a.m.
“I can’t say enough about the fire department. They did an exceptional job in developing a plan to safely remove Mr. Armstead from a very dangerous situation,” Honaker said.
State Police said Armstead indicated he was northbound in the 2002 Freightliner when he lit a cigarette and began to choke and cough. Honaker said Armstead indicated he may have passed out.
According to Honaker, Armstead was traveling around 70 miles per hour when he lost control. Conroy said evidence suggests the truck gradually veered off the side of the road for 580 feet prior to impact with the retaining wall.
The driver was taken to New River Valley Medical Center for treatment of minor injuries.
Armstead has been charged with reckless driving, State Police said.
The truck was registered to Williamson Farms Trucking, Inc. of Charleston, Miss.
The northbound lanes of the interstate were closed for almost two hours, causing a significant traffic back-up. As of 3:10 p.m., only one lane of the northbound side of I-81 was open due to ongoing clean-up operations.
An estimated 175 to 200 gallons of diesel fuel spilled from the truck as it hung from the bridge, but none of it was spilled near the New River.
Conroy said getting traffic flowing again after one of the northbound lanes of the interstate was reopened at 12:15 p.m. was a difficult task. Traffic was backed up as far as the 98.5 mile marker before the lane was reopened.
One minor wreck was reported at the 101 mile marker as the result of the backup.
Plus, Conroy said, one woman stuck in the traffic exited her vehicle and accidentally locked her keys inside, and the battery on an electric hybrid vehicle died so the vehicle would not restart.
Conroy said Armstead was hauling computers.