A messy situation

Becky Vargo • Feb 22, 2017 at 11:47 AM

FERRYSBURG — Traffic was blocked for several hours after a truck carrying a load of cement struck a railroad signal and tipped over on Ferrysburg’s Third Street late Wednesday morning.

A Port City Redi-Mix truck came down the exit ramp off southbound U.S. 31, attempted to turn right onto Third Street but couldn’t complete the turn. It instead hit and damaged a pedestrian gate and a train signal before rolling over, according to Ferrysburg Assistant Fire Chief Len VanderJagt.

Emergency crews responded to the scene shortly after 11 a.m.

A small fire broke out in the engine compartment of the cement truck, but it was quickly extinguished by Ferrysburg firefighters. 

Men working nearby on a tree crew rushed to the scene and helped extract the driver from the truck. One of the men said he helped the driver climb out the door. 

The truck driver, 45-year-old Sean Jennings of Muskegon, was transported to North Ottawa Community Hospital with minor injuries, VanderJagt said.

Police blocked Third Street in both directions at the site of the crash, as well as the off-ramp leading down to the crash scene. Vehicles that used the Ferrysburg exit off U.S. 31 were detoured east into town. 

Sgt. Jason Kik of the Ottawa County Sheriff’s Department said the crash occurred when the truck driver came down the ramp too fast, was unable to stop and swerved to avoid a car traveling on Third Street.

The 1999 Osh Kosh cement truck struck and destroyed a support pole holding the pedestrian gate for the bike path at the railroad tracks, and then rolled over onto the bike path on the south side of the road. The main cantilever for the railroad lights was also damaged.

The Port City Redi Mix truck belongs to Grand Rapids Gravel, said employee Scott Hobby, who responded to the scene from the company’s Muskegon plant. Hobby said the truck had a fresh load of concrete and was on its way to a job. He said the drum contained about 9 yards of concrete, which weighed about 36,000 pounds.

Crews from the gravel company and Baxter Towing worked against the clock to separate the drum from the truck and get the vehicle upright before the concrete set. A drive train was then removed from the bottom of the cement truck so that it could be towed. Workers used a torch to cut the drum from the truck, as firefighters stood by with charged fire hoses.

Containers of oil that dripped from the truck were placed in Ferrysburg’s front-end loader and taken to the nearby city garage.

Baxter’s Towing employees attached cables to the truck, and once it was finally freed from the drum, it was up righted in about a minute.

The truck was towed around the corner while crews worked to remove the drum from the scene.

The roadway was reopened shortly before 4 p.m. Wednesday.

Assistant Train Master Dave Pastotnik said they might have to adjust the train schedule until the signals are repaired and replaced. Currently, a train goes through that area twice every other day.

Until the signals are running again, the trains will stop at Third Street, the conductor will get out and make sure it is safe for the train to pass, signal the engineer to move the train, and then get back on once everything is clear.

“Our main concern is safeguarding the traffic,” Pastotnik said. “This is a really big deal for us. When something happens, we take every precaution, so one incident doesn’t lead to another.”

Pastotnik said it’s important for them to stop the trains because people are used to the signals in the area.

Pastotnik said he’s glad that this doesn’t happen that often here, as it could take weeks to get replacement fixtures.

VanderJagt said the fire department responds to the area of Wednesday’s crash scene at least once or twice a year, but only for the more severe crashes, or those with injuries.

“I don’t know how often the police are here,” he said.

Ferrysburg firefighters responded to the same location about a month ago when a car slid down the ramp on ice and hit a tanker. Last year, someone hit the railroad signal, VanderJagt said.

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