Jun 16, 2004

Trucker Electrocuted While Fleeing His Burning Rig

PLANT CITY - A truck driver, fearing for his life, jumped from the cab of his tractor- trailer to avoid fire that was ripping through the rig.
But as the man jumped from his truck into a puddle, he was electrocuted by a high-voltage power line felled in the accident, police said.

The identity of the driver, who lived in Hillsborough County, was not released late Monday as police sought relatives.

About 5:30 p.m., the man was delivering a load of citrus seed to Southeast Milk, a cattle-feed processing mill on Turkey Creek Road. As he turned into the plant, his trailer clipped a power pole, said Plant City police Officer Alfred VanDuyne.

The truck barely scraped the pole, which remained standing. Still, the tension caused a power line to snap, falling onto the truck's cab and the trailer, setting the truck on fire.

VanDuyne said the man opened the burning cab's door and stepped into a puddle of water. Electricity from the downed line electrocuted him.

``I don't know if he knew the power line came down,'' VanDuyne said. ``If he saw that the pole didn't come down, he might have thought he was good.''

David Harris, 50, lives a block from the accident scene. He said he was home and heard a loud boom, then his lights went out. Harris said he assumed there was an accident and went to see.

``Electricity was just popping around the truck,'' he said. ``I was just hoping the guy was all right. It's tragic.''

Harris said an onlooker grabbed a garden hose, saying he'd try to douse the flames. Another neighbor stopped him, warning him about the power lines. ``He saved his life,'' Harris said.

VanDuyne said TECO crews quickly shut down the power and firefighters doused the fire. Lifesaving attempts on the driver were unsuccessful.

A similar accident occurred last year in North Florida.

The Tallahassee Democrat reported two Madison men were electrocuted Aug. 9 after their car veered off a road and hit a utility pole. The impact caused power lines to fall onto the shoulder. When the men got out and walked up the shoulder, they were killed.

The Tampa Electric Co. Web site suggests if a wire falls on your car, assume it is ``hot.'' If there is no immediate fire danger, stay in the car and, if possible, call 911. If you can't call 911 or signal for help, try driving away.

If fire or injury means you must leave, do not touch the car while getting out. Jump clear with both feet.

Tribune researcher Buddy Jaudon contributed to this report. Reporter Thomas W. Krause can be reached at (813) 259-7698.

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