Overcorrected steering tied to fatal crash / Driver attempted twice to bring rig under control

Tuesday, December 21, 1999
BY MARK BOWES Times-Dispatch Staff Writer

The driver of a Chesterfield County fire-rescue truck that crashed Saturday, killing a volunteer firefighter, apparently overcorrected his steering twice in an attempt to bring the 40,000-pound rig under control after it dropped into a ditch off Old Buckingham Road.

Police yesterday still were trying to determine what caused the truck, en route to a residential gas-leak emergency, to veer off the shoulderless, two-lane road, which winds through several subdivisions. "There's been questions as to speed and things like that, but it's all still under investigation," Chesterfield police Lt. Tom Holloway said yesterday.

Bradley McNeer, 22, died in the crash. Volunteer District Chief Brian Barfield, who was driving, suffered head and leg injuries but has been released from the hospital. County police and fire officials released these details yesterday about how they believe the crash occurred: Rescue unit No. 49, with Barfield and McNeer aboard, was among seven fire trucks dispatched about 7:40 p.m. to investigate a gas leak inside a home in Old Buckingham Forest. Because such calls can be potentially volatile, the fire units were dispatched as a "priority one" emergency with lights and sirens. "The fact that it was reported to be inside the structure" made the call more serious, said Chesterfield Deputy Fire Chief Paul Mauger. "Without being theatrical, we have a potential bomb ready to go off. We've had those where it's actually leveled homes."

As unit No. 49 was traveling west in the 12400 block of Old Buckingham Road, the rig veered off the right side of the road and struck a culvert, Mauger said. At that point, Barfield attempted to guide the truck back onto the roadway, but he overcorrected and the rig veered into the eastbound lane, Holloway said. With the truck heading toward two oncoming cars, a Lexus and a Volkswagen, those drivers tried to veer to their right and out of the path of the truck, Holloway said. The driver of the Lexus couldn't get over far enough, and the firetruck sideswiped the vehicle.

The driver of the Volkswagen, behind the Lexus, avoided the firetruck but the vehicle "sustained some damage when it went off the road," Holloway said. "They tried to get over onto what is pretty much a nonexistent shoulder," Holloway said. Neither of those drivers was injured.

Meanwhile Barfield, still struggling to bring the firetruck under control, apparently tried to steer it back into the westbound lane. But "it appears . . . he takes it too far, runs off the right side of the road [and] strikes a tree," Holloway said. The firefighters aboard the other fire units that responded to the gas leak were unaware of the crash.

The emergency involved a leak from a gas stove, Mauger said. "The piping had become separated in the wall. It was a significant call."

McNeer, who joined the Chesterfield County Fire Department as a volunteer in February, is the first county firefighter to die in the line of duty. Chesterfield has about 350 career, or paid, firefighters, and about 100 volunteer firefighters.

1999, Richmond Newspapers Inc.