Finley Point Man Rescues Truck Driver After Hwy 35 Crash

By Beacon Staff

FINLEY POINT – If not for the quick work of a nearby home owner and a passerby, a chip truck driver probably would have suffered serious burns after the tractor-trailer he was driving went off the north side of the road on Highway 35 about five miles from Polson.

Joel Sampson was outside his lakeside residence near mile marker 5 when he heard a loud noise from 100 feet away on the two-lane highway.

“It made a hell of a racket coming down here,” said Sampson standing on the access road to houses located on Flathead Lake north of the highway.

He ran up his driveway to find a tractor-trailer carrying wood chips off the road and on its side. As he approached the wreckage Sampson heard someone moaning several feet from the obliterated blue truck cab.

He and a passing motorist, who identified himself as Billy Crawford, pulled the injured man down the hill through the spilled hog fuel and away from the truck as flames began to squirt from the cab.

They quickly loaded the bleeding man into the bed of Sampson’s pickup and drove a distance away seconds before the half-full fuel tank exploded, he said, and administered first aid until the Finley Point Volunteer Fire Department ambulance crews arrived.

The unidentified driver was taken to St. Joseph Hospital in Polson.

The tractor-trailer ripped several hundred feet of trees and underbrush and came to rest next to a huge Ponderosa pine as it traveled alongside the road before tipping over.

The driver told Sampson that the passenger-side wheel and tire strayed off the roadway and he was unable to right the rig before it tipped.

Mike Ferguson, who lives nearby, was on the telephone talking about a pending hunting trip when he heard a boom, the ground shook like an earthquake and his internet went out.

“It’s one of those sounds you don’t want to hear,” he said.

By the time he came outside, the injured man had been pulled to safety.

“He wouldn’t have survived. He would have burned,” said Ferguson, describing 30-foot flame lengths that scorched the insulation off overhead power lines.

“He’s a hero,” he said of Sampson’s quick work.

The 2:20 p.m. wreck closed Montana Highway 35 for a time and six hours after the incident traffic was stopped in both directions as the burned tractor was righted and hauled away.

The wreck is the fourth semi tractor incident in the same half-mile stretch of Highway 35 in 18 months, according to neighbors, and is just a few hundred yards from where a tanker crashed and spilled fuel on the opposite side of the highway causing the evacuation of several homes in April 2008.

For a mile near the crash site, yellow flags line the road where a guardrail is scheduled to be constructed, although they would not have kept this rig on the road.

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