Crime

Truck crashes off freeway near Iowa Street, catches fire

Mitchell S. Winterburn, 23, of Bellingham, gets a hug from an unidentified woman after his dump truck crashed off Interstate 5 on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. He was not seriously injured and was checked by medics at the scene.
Mitchell S. Winterburn, 23, of Bellingham, gets a hug from an unidentified woman after his dump truck crashed off Interstate 5 on Tuesday, May 26, 2015. He was not seriously injured and was checked by medics at the scene. The Bellingham Herald

A mechanical problem may have caused a dump truck to crash off Interstate 5 near Iowa Street, where it then burst into flames, according to the Washington State Patrol.

The driver, Mitchell S. Winterburn, 23, of Bellingham, told state troopers he’d been southbound on the freeway around 12:50 p.m. Tuesday, May 26, when he hit a bump in the road. The steering column failed, he said, and he lost control to the right.

The blue ’85 Ford dump truck, owned by Rome Construction, crashed over concrete barriers and through a chain-link fence, then landed on its passenger side on Lincoln Street, near Everybody’s Gym.

Joseph Kelly, a trainer at the gym, said he heard a loud bang on the freeway, then went outside to see the truck tumbling down the embankment.

Seconds later Winterburn, scuffed up but not seriously hurt, escaped through the driver’s side door. About a minute or two later, witnesses said, smoke started to billow out of the engine. Flames grew and shot up about 25 feet, taller than the Iowa Street overpass.

“You see that tree?” Kelly said, pointing to a tall deciduous tree with singe marks far up its north side. “It torched it all the way up there.”

Police shut down Iowa Street on both sides of the overpass while firefighters fought the flames. A thick black column of smoke could be seen from downtown Bellingham. The fire was out within a few minutes.

Meanwhile, diesel from the truck leaked into a nearby storm drain. Firefighters and a public works crew barricaded the drain with absorbent pads.

Fire damage to the engine and steering column will make the cause of the crash difficult to investigate, said State Trooper Mark Francis. So Winterburn hadn’t been cited, as of Tuesday, and he may not be cited if the cause is a mechanical problem. Nobody reported he’d been driving erratically before the crash.

Winterburn had dirt on his face and hands, but no obvious injuries. He declined to talk with a reporter. Once friends and family reached the scene, he hugged them with his eyes shut.

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