An 18-wheel truck rollover south of Payson closed Beeline Highway for almost three hours Thursday and had Payson firefighters scrambling to free the driver, 38-year-old, Francisco Javier Hernandez, who was pinned in the wreckage.
Payson Fire Captain Toby Waugh estimates it took the team of firefighters about two hours to free Hernandez.
According to Waugh, the driver's legs were pinned inside the crushed cab of the truck that was lying upside down atop a ravine west of the highway.
While firefighters worked to free Hernandez, paramedic Julie Morder climbed inside the cab to comfort the trapped driver who was conscious throughout the ordeal.
"She is small so she could get in there," Waugh said.
Before firefighters could begin their efforts to extricate Hernandez, they had to cut down trees and brush to reach the cab.
Tow trucks also were used to stabilize the 18-wheeler and firefighters were on alert with fire hoses to ensure the diesel fuel that had leaked did not ignite.
Using an extrication device, ram jacks, saws, spread jacks and about every other tool the fire department has at its disposal, the firefighters were finally able to free Hernandez.
"Once we got everything cut away and his legs free, he was an easy slide out," Waugh said.
Although Hernandez appeared to be in good condition, he was flown by a Native Air helicopter to Scottsdale Healthcare Osborn.
"He was up and talking but in things like this, it's automatic to fly them out," Waugh said.
He was kept in the hospital overnight for observation and is scheduled to be released today.
DPS officer Bill Murphy, who investigated the accident, said he considered it almost a miracle the driver escaped without injury."
"When I saw the wreck, I was going to investigate it as a fatality," he said.
During the time it took to free the driver and clear the highway, Payson police and Tonto Apache Reservation officers stopped traffic at Beeline at BIA 101 near the casino.
According to Murphy, the driver said the accident occurred after he reached to his right to retrieve something that had fallen on the floor of the cab. When he did so his truck veered to the right almost off the pavement. The driver over-corrected which caused the rollover, Murphy said.
The accident remains under investigation.