Tanker Truck Driver Escapes Death After Fiery Crash

by Jana Ritter - Published: 12/08/2014

A quick thinking tanker truck driver saved his own life on Saturday, by crawling through the windshield to escape a massive blaze resulting from a crash. He had been driving on Route 78 near Union, New Jersey when 24 year-old James Pinaire was driving his Audi A4 from the Garden State Parkway ramp onto Route 78 and traveled into the tanker’s path. According to state police, the tanker hit the Audi and then both vehicles crashed with tractor-trailer hauling mulch in the left express lane.

Fire Crash

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The fuel tanker and big-rig continued running off the left express lane until the fuel truck became lodged on the concrete barrier and the 9,000 gallons of fuel in the tanker ignited and sent both trucks up in flames. Pinaire, the Audi driver, was tragically pronounced dead at the scene and the tanker truck driver, 35 year old Balwinder Singh was listed in critical condition after escaping the inferno through the windshield. The mulch truck driver, Mario Quiroz, 53, was treated and released from a nearby hospital.

Joe DeGioia happened to be driving to Hoboken on the 78 eastbound when he saw the crash. He managed to capture the rest of the incident on video, including the moment Singh escaped through his windshield. "I saw it in the distance and I didn’t think anything of it, but when I got closer it was surreal. I started taking video and you can hear two or three explosions and then I saw the man crawl out of the windshield of the truck. After that I stopped recording," DeGioia said.

DeGioia says that he saw Singh walk out to the side of the road and that he looked completely out of it, until paramedics arrived on the scene and were able to assist him. Flames and thick dark smoke burned high above the raging fuel blaze and left motorists stuck in major traffic for at least four hours. DeGioia said that like many other motorists, he drove over the median from the express lane to the local lane and he could still feel the heat from even three lanes away. “I could feel the heat. It felt like I was standing next to the biggest bonfire," he said.

A specialized fire rescue team was dispatched Newark Liberty International Airport to help in the firefighting efforts. Their Aircraft Rescue Firefighting truck is specifically used to battle fires involving large amounts of fuel. According to the state Department of Transportation, both the local and express lanes of Route 78 were closed around 1 p.m. between Exit 51 and Exit 54.By 8pm, the highway’s eastbound lanes and one westbound lane were reopened.