Witness: Tractor-trailer driver a 'hero' (2024)

CUMBERLAND — Susan Betulius was driving with her husband from their home in Avon, Indiana, to Springfield, Pennsylvania, for a family reunion Thursday when she saw from her side mirror a blue streak and white smoke.

The couple were on Interstate 68 eastbound when a tractor-trailer that appeared “out of control” rushed by them.

“I swerved to the right ... and thought, ‘this is it,’” she said.

Betulius estimated the truck was traveling at least 90 mph and its driver was trying to keep the vehicle on the road, she said.

“I thought it was gonna flip on me,” Betulius said.

“Then he was in front of us,” she said. “It was just so surreal.”

The tractor-trailer then “blasted out of sight,” said her husband, Robert America.

Roughly four miles down the road, the couple saw the truck had crashed into a treeline and was on fire at the Johnson Street exit.

“All of a sudden there was black smoke,” he said and added the trucker avoided about 30 cars before it came to a fiery stop.

Several bystanders attempted to rescue the driver, but he was trapped.

The Cumberland Fire Department quickly extinguished the flames, however, the driver died from his injuries.

“He was a hero,” America said of the tractor-trailer driver. “His family needs to know.”

Driver identified

The Cumberland Police Department identified the truck driver as Musa Suwareh, 49, of Lenexa, Kansas.

“The next of kin has been notified,” police Capt. James Burt said on Friday.

A preliminary police investigation revealed the tractor-trailer lost control and struck a Toyota passenger van before it careened off the roadway, hit a tree and caught fire.

The driver of the van was transported to the hospital by a Cumberland Fire Department ambulance with non-life-threatening injuries.

The truck, owned by Zay Kie Logistics of West St. Paul, Minnesota, was hauling a load of chai tea.

Under investigation

Thursday’s crash remains under investigation by Cumberland Police, assisted by several other law enforcement agencies.

The tractor-trailer was traveling at a high rate of speed, but why is unknown, Burt said.

In the past several years, numerous tractor-trailers have crashed, flipped and or caught fire on the stretch of Interstate 68 that passes through Cumberland.

In 2021, Cumberland patrol officers received truck enforcement training from the Maryland State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division.

In 2019, the Maryland Motor Truck Association warned its members “to use extreme caution” while traveling the interstate from the Garrett County line through Cumberland.

The same year, state police conducted 652 truck inspections at the Finzel Scalehouse, an Allegany County weigh station along Interstate 68.

As a result, 90 vehicles and 23 drivers were placed out of service, 179 citations issued and 239 warnings given.

The truck from Thursday’s accident could not have stopped at the Finzel Scalehouse for a simple reason.

“It was not operational yesterday and has been closed due to ongoing renovations,” said the Maryland Department of State Police Office of Media Communications on Friday. “Trucks are not being weighed elsewhere as Maryland State Troopers from the Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division are continuing to conduct patrols in the area.”

Sometimes tractor-trailer drivers are unfamiliar with the twists and turns as they travel down the steep incline into the city.

It’s also becoming more frequent for the trucks to have an automatic rather than manual transmission, which means there’s no downshifting of gears to help slow the vehicle and leaves a driver to rely on brakes that often overheat, Burt said.

“We are where they crash,” he said of Cumberland.

Trauma help

Cumberland Police has been fielding calls from folks who saw Thursday’s crash, and providing information for anyone who needs help to deal with the trauma.

“We recognize that this event may have been distressing for witnesses and responders alike,” the police department said via press release Friday.

In collaboration with the Allegany County Health Department, CPD works closely with the Baltimore County Crisis Response Inc. Team, which offers “a comprehensive range of resources and maintains a local presence in Allegany County,” it stated. “This partnership enables us to respond effectively to crises and traumatic incidents such as yesterday’s event.”

Folks can call BCRI at 301-783-0010, and learn more at https://bcresponse.org/services.

The idea to extend emotional resources beyond police to the public originated at the city police department.

“One of my police officers came up with it today,” Burt said.

Teresa McMinn is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or tmcminn@times-news.com.

Witness: Tractor-trailer driver a 'hero' (2024)
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