COLUMBUS COUNTY, NC (WECT) - On Monday night, firefighters rushed to rescue a family stranded on a highway before a tractor-trailer smashed into their vehicles causing an explosion.
In a bizarre incident later that night, the passenger of a car who drove through the barricade during clean-up waved a gun and ran into a firefighter.
“Amazingly, everybody walked away,” said Myles Swain, an EMT and volunteer firefighter who was on the scene. “There could have been seven fatalities.”
The incident started at about 10 p.m. Monday night when Acme-Delco-Riegelwood Fire-Rescue received a call about a car broken down on the side of Highway 74/76.
Chief Steve Camlin, Autumn Witchen, Jesse Witchen, and Myles Swain responded to help the stranded people.
When four firefighters arrived, they found a family in the process of moving from South Carolina to Burgaw. Their car became disabled when the tire fell off.
First responders turned on their emergency lights before attempting to remove the car from the highway lane.
"We looked back and saw a tractor-trailer coming, and it did not look like it was slowing down," said Swain.
The tractor-trailer smashed into one of the firefighter’s vehicles, and then plowed into the family’s car, which caused an explosion.
"That broken-down vehicle then burst into flames, and the trailer jackknifed and went across the median into oncoming traffic on the other side," said Swain.
The truck missed Swain by six inches to a foot and brushed one of the other firefighters.
“The family had all their possessions in the vehicle, all their cash, and it was destroyed because that car went up in flames, totally engulfed,” said Swain.
Firefighters shut down both lanes of Highway 74/76 to begin cleaning up, and it remained closed for several hours.
On Tuesday afternoon, the remains of the accident could still be seen in the median, including car parts, personal items, and deep tire tracks.
In a strange incident during the clean-up process, a motorist driving on the westbound lane broke through the barricade and got into an altercation with the firefighters.
"Somebody broke through the barricade, and when we asked them to stop and turn around, he became very irate. His female companion pulled a gun on us," said Swain.
While the woman did not fire the gun, the driver did injure a firefighter in an apparent act of road rage.
“As (the driver) took off across the median, he actually hit and drug one of our firefighters down the road, and took off down Highway 11,” said Swain.
The firefighter suffered road rash and minor injuries, but is doing OK.
"It's hard to fathom really. I couldn't believe it was happening when it was going on," said Swain.
The driver got away, and a search Monday night was unsuccessful. Swain describes the vehicle as a blue or gray newer edition Chevy Silverado. There is blue tape on the back windshield with a Vietnam veteran license plate on the front.
N.C. State Highway Patrol is investigating both of the incidents. WECT has reached out for more information, and we are waiting to hear back.