By Neil H. Dempsey
---- — PEABODY — The driver of the plow truck that a Danvers man crashed into on Interstate 95 early Tuesday morning described a dramatic scene of trying to free the unconscious man as his wrecked Jeep began to burn around him.
Howie Lane of Essex was sitting in his plow truck in the breakdown lane shortly before Exit 47 around 2 a.m. Tuesday, watching his co-worker move snow with a front-end loader as the two worked a private contact for the state, when his vehicle was struck from behind by a 2008 Jeep Wrangler driven by 35-year-old Franco Carullo.
“He went from 55 miles per hour, 60 miles per hour, to nothing,” Lane said Wednesday. “We couldn’t understand how the guy hit us.”
After the accident, Lane jumped out of his cab, promptly slipped and fell to the ground, then rushed over to the crashed vehicle with his co-worker. They could see Carullo inside, unconscious, but the doors were locked and they couldn’t get the windows open.
Lane got a hammer and smashed the window, then wrenched the door open. But the two struggled to extricate Carullo from the car because the air bag had deployed, pinning the seat belt against him.
As they struggled with the belt, the vehicle began to catch fire — a tense experience that Lane said persuaded him to always carry a knife in the future.
“I never felt so useless in my life,” he said. “When that seat belt released, I felt like I hit Megabucks.”
The two dragged the unconscious Carullo — his pants on fire and his arms and legs broken — a safe distance away from the vehicle just as it exploded in flames.
“As we dragged him out, the car blew up,” Lane said.
Lane said Carullo regained consciousness minutes later.
“He said, ‘Is that my Jeep?’ and I said, ‘You can forget the Jeep, the Jeep is junk, it’s burned to a crisp.’”
Carullo indicated that he had must have fallen asleep behind the wheel, Lane said.
Emergency crews were on the scene by 2:05 a.m., and Carullo was taken by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Lane said he was in touch with Carullo’s mother, who told him that Carullo had been operated on once, was still hospitalized and faces a long stretch of rehabilitation.
Attempts to reach the Carullo family were unsuccessful.
Neither of the two workers — who had never worked together before that shift — was injured in the crash, aside from some cuts and bruises as result of their effort to free Carullo and some soreness for Lane from when he fell on the road.
“I was just relieved we got him out,” Lane said. “It turned out good, but I got to tell you, when it was all going down, it was bad. It was a bad deal.”