Routine trucking run turns to tragedy, leaving survivor grateful, prayerful
Posted 4:15 p.m. Wednesday
Updated 4:37 p.m. Friday
Lumberton, N.C. — Wayne Harrington spent Wednesday at home. It's not something he does often, because for long stretches, he's on an interstate, captaining 40 tons of cargo as a long-haul trucker.
"You see crosses all over the interstate, and every time I pass one, I think, 'That person didn't go home,'" Harrington said.
He got a too-close-for-comfort reminder of the dangers of his job Tuesday afternoon, when a tanker truck barreled into view along Interstate 95 near the South Carolina state line.
Harrington's rig was one of six involved in a chain-reaction crash in Robeson County that left five people dead.
"Whatever vehicle was behind me, it threw gas all over my truck, and it ignited. I was already on fire when I went across the median," Harrington said.
According to the North Carolina State Highway Patrol, driver Michael Elliott Bricker, 68, of Myrtle Beach, S.C., failed to slow down as his truck approached a crew working in the road. Bricker's tanker first hit a Dodge pickup truck, pushing it into a Ford Explorer SUV. That Explorer then was pushed into the rear of a Ford Escape SUV.
The tanker continued southbound and hit two other tractor-trailers, including Harrington's, and the gas in the tanker burst into flame.
"Once I got stopped, I looked back and all I could see was flames," Harrington said.
Bricker and four others were killed.
"I ran over there to try to save him," Harrington said, "but the flames were just too hot. There was nothing I could do."
What started as a routine run to pick up a load of chicken meal in Ward, S.C., turned tragic, leaving Harrington and his wife grateful and prayerful.
"It's pretty tough to know all those people died behind me and I survived, you know. Thank God," he said.
"Something like this really brings home that we're blessed," said Athena Harrington. "I could be a widow right now, but I'm not."
Athena Harrington drove to Lumberton Tuesday to meet her husband after the accident and bring him home.
"Every time he leaves, it doesn’t matter what time of day or night he leaves, before he walks out of that door, I pray for him, his safety, the safety of other drivers,” she said.
“My prayers were answered yesterday. Some people’s weren’t. I’m a very, very lucky and blessed woman.”
Wayne Harrington plans to keep trucking, but he allowed that right now, it feels good to be home.