A 20-year-old delivery truck driver and his passenger escaped potentially life-threatening injury last week when a power line landed on their vehicle during an accident on Waunakee’s south side.
Emergency crews responded to report of a vehicle fire at 5891 Woodland Drive around 2:40 p.m. Tuesday afternoon. When they arrived at the residence, responders found a 24-foot box truck parked in the driveway with its passenger compartment engulfed in flames. Waunakee Fire Department determined that the vehicle was unoccupied, and extinguished the blaze to prevent further damage or injury.
Investigation showed that the truck, measuring 13.2 feet in height, had been exiting the driveway when it snagged a low-hanging telecommunications line and pulled down an abutting utility pole. An overhead power line landed on the vehicle’s passenger compartment, creating a short circuit.
The driver then stopped the truck while the electrical wires were still in contact. Both occupants were able to exit the vehicle without injury; however, the truck set fire minutes later.
Tribune staff spoke with the individuals involved in the incident shortly after it took place.
According to the driver, a 20-year-old employee of Diamond Freight Systems, he and his coworker had just finished their second-to-last delivery and were sending in the paperwork when they were approached by a resident of the home to which they had just delivered.
The resident asked the workers if they could move the delivery truck so that she could pick up her child. The driver obliged, and began backing the vehicle out of her driveway and into the street.
Neither he nor his passenger was aware that the truck had snagged one of the overhead lines.
“We just slowly reversed out, and all of a sudden, I heard a crack,” said the driver, who asked that his name be omitted. “I turned to the left, and saw the power line start to tip over. And that’s when everything happened.”
Electrical wires came crashing down on the passenger compartment, and began sparking immediately.
“The power lines landed on the front right of the truck, where the mirror is, and they sparked three big times. It almost looked like it could have blown up the truck,” the driver said. “So as soon as the sparks stopped is when I decided, ‘This is the time we jet, because if we don’t, there’s a chance that this could just blow up instantly.’”
The driver and passenger jumped from the cab, risking electric shock and potential electrocution, because they reportedly feared that the vehicle would explode with them inside of it.
Electric superintendent for Waunakee Utilities Dave Dresen said the two were fortunate.
“Usually, you don’t want to get out of a vehicle when there’s a power line on it,” Dresen said, “because the electricity is dissipating into the ground. But the breaker tripped, so everything was de-energized. So it did what it was supposed to. Nobody got hurt. That’s the main thing.”
More than 460 customers lost electricity that afternoon, as a result of the April 20 accident. Power was restored to the area shortly thereafter, and the utility pole replaced the following morning.
The incident has raised discussion on social media, where some questioned the driver’s experience.
“I have been driving this thing for a clean three months now, and I’ve had zero problems at all,” the driver said when asked about his experience behind the wheel. “This was my first incident ever. So it is kind of surprising and shocking for me.”
The passenger, a 21-year-old employee of Diamond Freight Systems, described the experience as frightening and said he feels lucky to have walked away from accident unscathed.
“I definitely feel fortunate,” he said. “The firefighters told us we’re lucky that nothing happened to us. We don’t have much knowledge on it, about jumping out and electricity. That’s the first time that’s ever happened. So it’s good to know, now, that you’re not supposed to jump out. But I think if we didn’t jump out, we might not have jumped out at all, if you know what I mean.”