CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A deadly accident in a construction zone on I-485 created a fireball and caused a huge mess and massive delays for thousands of drivers on Thursday.
By mid-afternoon, the interstate had reopened, and traffic was moving, but repairs are expected to be completed by rush hour Friday morning.
Police said a dump truck, driven by 54-year-old Bobby Joe Hunt, hit a barrier on I-485 outbound near Johnston Road around 8:15 a.m.
Law enforcement said the dump truck ran straight into what's called an impact continuator, something meant to absorb impact at a construction truck entrance area to the work site.
Crews there were already done for the day.
Authorities said it appears the driver never hit the brakes; the truck flipped and immediately burst into flames, killing the driver.
Witness Marie Nadine says, “It was terrifying; it immediately burst into flames, so your first thought is, ‘what happened to him.’"
"There were some people who tried to run over with a fire extinguisher, but it was just...too late," Nadine recalled.
The deadly accident shut down the outer loop of 485 from the near the flyover to Johnston Road for about four hours, with thousands of drivers either at a standstill, moving slowly, or looking for alternate routes.
Crews had to remove the dump truck and clean up about 50 gallons of fuel, plus some waste that the truck was carrying.
A terrific employee
Tony McMillan, owner of TNT of York County truck company said driver Bobby Hunt was a devoted family man and one of his safest drivers.
"He's never had been cited for any violation. He always wears a seat-belt, does not drink, smoke -- just a person who comes and does an excellent job." he said.
The initial investigation shows there were no skid marks and McMillan said the truck's GPS reading indicates Hunt was driving 43 mph, within the speed limit.
It's unclear if it can be determined if Hunt was distracted, or suffered a medical emergency. McMillan said he has no knowledge of Hunt having a history of medical problems. He said just four months ago Hunt passed his Department of Transportation physical.
Hunt clocked out from his shift around 2:30 p.m. the previous day. McMillan said he came back in around 4 a.m. with time to rest between shifts. He said they will wait to see what investigators are able to determine, but the loss has been difficult on his fellow workers.
"Very hard...because we are all like family," McMillan said.
Hunt is the youngest of seven children, and is a father of five from Rock Hill. He worked for the company for seven years without an incident.
"One of the best employees that we had and our hearts go out to his family and all our people. we are working with this family through this matter," said McMillan.
Drivers stranded in traffic for hours
The ripple effect from Thursday morning’s deadly accident is still affecting parts of the evening commute for thousands, but for morning commuters it was a real headache.
"It's pretty frustrating," said driver, Austin Helman.
Drivers brought to a halt on interstate 485 Thursday morning became desperate for a detour. Many were stuck for more several hours.
"I was getting off on Interstate 77 to get on 485 and it was backed up all the way from the ramp up there so I got off 485 on South Tryon and went down Arrowood," said Helman.
Others were lucky enough to miss the deadlock and get off the highway after only about 20 minutes of waiting.
"I got stuck right at South Boulevard right south coming on, I usually come the other way usually on 77 to 485 but unfortunately it started to back up right at south," said driver Thomas Hanna.
Pineville police say they and Charlotte police were called in to assist Highway Patrol, so they quickly took action to keep more cars from being trapped on the highway.
"The Pineville guys got up there right away and got these ramps shut down so we didn't get any more traffic onto 485 , we got the Interstate shut down and started funneling the traffic off," said Officer Nick French with Pineville Police Dept.
The drivers who witnessed the wreck became instantly stuck at 485 and Johnston as all the lanes closed down to clean up the dump truck fire. For those drivers, their morning commute or casual drive to breakfast became an entire morning waiting game.
"Yeah it's been extremely boring and 2 and half hours, they said they were going to open a median over there but that never happened so just sitting here waiting," said Jeremy Boroi.
Those who frequent 485 say you almost grow to expect some traffic nightmares.
"It’s typical you know, 485 you never know what you're going to get," said Hanna.
For drivers close to the carnage, they say waiting in a few hours of traffic was the least of their worries.
"Based on that everybody's pretty calm and glad they weren't involved in it and God is good."