The accident happened about 10:15 a.m. when a tractor-trailer, driven by North Carolina trucker Kenneth Walden, swerved to avoid a slow-moving car. Police say they aren’t sure whether the car was entering the interstate and failed to yield, or it was just moving slowly. Walden’s truck clipped the car, but hit a van on his left side. He lost control and went across the median, taking the van with him, where he hit a tanker truck loaded with hot tar head-on. Another tractor-trailer carrying bricks hit Walden’s rig and jackknifed in the median.
Two people were killed: the driver of the van and the driver of the tar tanker. Their bodies were burned so badly that identification was not immediately possible. Walden was in a local hospital’s intensive care unit in stable condition. Five other people were treated and released at local hospitals. The highway was closed for six hours while workers put out the fire and cleaned up the tar.
An article in the Thursday Birmingham News said the accident “raised new concerns about traffic safety in Alabama.” The paper said the number of fatal crashes involving large trucks is disproportionately high compared to the state’s population.
Alabama has more fatal truck crashes than states such as New York, Michigan and Indiana, and ranks dead even with Illinois and Pennsylvania – states that all have higher populations and heavier traffic volumes than Alabama.
The paper did report that most of the Alabama fatal crashes involving trucks were not the truck drivers’ fault. David Brown of the University of Alabama’s Engineering Research Laboratory was quoted as saying, “Most of the truck drivers … are professionals. A crash that involves a large truck and a car is usually more severe, simply because of the weight of the truck.”