Thursday, July 5, 2012 should have been like any other day any for 41-year-old dump truck driver Chris Burgess. His rig was loaded with 15 tons of sand as he set off on the Akron, Ohio streets.
Burgess was driving down the steep hill on Portage Trail, heading toward a busy intersection, when the brakes on his truck went out. Burgess’ truck was picking up speed as it plummeted down the hill. He was sounding the horn to warn other drivers he was coming.
Trista Merendion and her two young children were heading toward the intersection at the same moment.
“I had the green light and was about to pull into the intersection,” she told WKYC. “And then I heard the horn and stopped just in time.”
“As I seen him go through the intersection, he’s just going like this,” Merendino gestured, waving her arms, to demonstrate how Burgess was trying to control the steering wheel. “He’s trying to control the truck and at the same time being so frantic. He looked so helpless. And you could just tell that even though he was helpless and did not have control, he did not want to harm anybody.”
Burgess made it through the intersection without colliding with any other vehicles but was then heading straight for his next obstacle: a packed strip mall. At that moment, Burgess made a decision that would ultimately end his own life but save the lives of many at the strip mall. He yanked the wheel and aimed his truck toward the Cuyahoga River.
“He definitely sacrificed his safety for the safety of everyong else who was around here,” Karla Maple told WKYC. Maple was in the Valley Centre Plaza parking lot on Akron-Peninsual Road in the Merriman Valley.
Burgess’ truck struck a large tree before plunging into the river, where it landed upside down. It took nearly 4 hours for crews to extricate Burgees from his truck on the river’s bottom.
“He truly sacrificed himself to keep from hitting anybody,” Maragret Paulin told WKYC.