Truck Explosion Burns Driver

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A badly burned driver managed to escape his flaming truck Saturday night on Highway 87, only to be struck by a car as he lay in the highway.

Cole LaBonte, who drove up on the scene moments after it happened, said he helped pull the driver from the roadway and to safety on the shoulder with several other passersby, including a man who said he had inadvertently struck the man as he laid burned in the highway.

The victim’s Dodge Ram Truck was heading to Payson, pulling a trailer with several vehicles on it, when its engine erupted into a ball of flames near Sunflower about 8:45 p.m.

The man was reportedly a car carrier, hauling vehicles to New Mexico.

As the man ascended a hill, the truck’s engine caught fire in the roadway. Two passengers in the truck jumped out of the vehicle’s passenger side, escaping major injury. The driver exited out of the driver’s side.

“The driver was burned head to toe,” LaBonte said.

LaBonte, who owns several Verizon Wireless stores, said he immediately turned his cell phone’s camera on when he arrived at the scene, capturing the truck burning brightly on the dark highway as the driver moaned.

“I have come across accidents before and it was just an instinct to turn the camera on,” he said.

At one point, a man, believed to be the one who had struck the driver, is heard saying he did not know what he had hit.

It is unconfirmed if the man struck the driver or debris in the roadway. The Department of Public Safety said it is still investigating the incident.

After LaBonte arrived on scene, he and another man pulled the driver to the highway’s shoulder after they realized a 100-gallon diesel tank was sitting in the truck’s bed.

LaBonte’s phone captures the gas tank exploding along with the truck and all of the vehicles on the trailer burning. A long trail of burning gas leads away from the truck.

The driver complains he cannot breathe. A nurse on scene comforts the man saying help is on the way.

Several minutes into LaBonte’s footage, an officer arrives on scene.

Both northbound lanes of travel were closed until 10 p.m. when the No. 1 lane was reopened. The roadway was completely opened at 12:42 a.m.

The man was airlifted to a Valley hospital.

This is not the first time LaBonte has assisted at an accident scene. According to Roundup archives, in March of 2002, LaBonte moved a motorcycle off a man after he fishtailed on Highway 87 and went down near the Saguaro Lake turnoff.

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