ROGERSVILLE — “The grace of God and two big pine trees” prevented a tractor-trailer from barreling into a Rogersville nursing home following a head-on collision on Highway 11-W Tuesday afternoon.
Around 2:30 p.m., an eastbound older model pickup turned north from Highway 11-W onto Route 70-N into the path of a westbound tractor-trailer.
The two vehicles impacted violently, after which the semi driver lost control, crossed the median and eastbound lanes, and traveled down an embankment on the south side of the highway toward the Signature Healthcare nursing home.
When asked what stopped the tractor-trailer from crashing into the nursing home, Hawkins County EMA Director Gary Murrell replied, “The grace of God and two big pine trees” that the truck hit at the bottom of the hill.
One of the pines was snapped at the base by the impact, and its large trunk landed about 12 feet from rooms where nursing home residents were staying.
The front of the truck stopped about 30 feet from the building.
Murrell said 16 patients in that section of the facility were evacuated immediately after the crash due to concerns that another tree might fall on the building.
The driver of the tractor-trailer wasn’t injured.
Despite the horrendous impact with the larger truck, witnesses told police that the driver of the pickup exited the truck and ran.
Shortly before 8 p.m. police reportedly discovered a “person of interest” on foot about two miles from the crash site who was being detained for questioning.
At around 6:15 p.m., 11-W was closed between Route 70-N and Park Boulevard because wreckers were having trouble pulling the tractor-trailer back up the embankment.
Murrell said two wreckers had suffered breakdowns during the attempt, but by 8 p.m. the semi was back up on the highway. Murrell said the road would likely remain closed until around 10 p.m. Tuesday, with traffic being diverted to Main Street.
Meanwhile, an estimated 100 gallons of fuel spilled from the semi after the wreck, and Murrell was arranging for cleanup with hazardous waste removal company HEPACO.
Among the agencies that responded to the wreck were the Hawkins County Rescue Squad, Rogersville Fire Department, Rogersville Police Department, Hawkins County Sheriff’s Office, Hawkins County EMS, Hawkins County HAZMAT, Rogersville Street Department, TDOT and the Tennessee Highway Patrol, which was investigating the crash.
Murrell also credited Price Tree Service for cutting away trees that impeded efforts to pull the tractor- trailer back up the embankment.