JACKSONVILLE – Three people were seriously injured Friday in a two-vehicle collision that police said was likely caused by a driver rushing a passenger to the hospital.
A red Chevy Blazer collided with a John Deere tractor at the intersection of Pelham Road and Greenleaf Street in Jacksonville shortly after noon, police said.
Assistant Police Chief Bill Wineman said a police officer parked at Loco Mex spotted the Blazer speeding south, with flashing hazard lights, on Pelham. The officer gave chase, intending to pull the driver over.
That chase was extremely short, Wineman said. The officer had just pulled onto Pelham and turned on his siren when the Blazer sped through a red light at Greenleaf and Pelham, the busy intersection near Winn-Dixie and CVS Pharmacy.
A man on a John Deere tractor, towing a fertilizer spreader, was pulling into the intersection when the Blazer came through, Police Chief Tommy Thompson said. The right side of the SUV struck an earth-moving blade on the front of the tractor, he said.
Weaver resident James H. White was behind the tractor in his 1989 Toyota sedan when the collision happened.
“He was coming through about 70 miles an hour,” White said. “He must have been crazy.”
White said he never noticed a police car in pursuit of the Blazer.
“I just saw him coming and then boom! There was debris flying everywhere,” White said. “It was the worst thing I’ve ever seen.”
White said the tractor was knocked into the intersection. The fertilizer spreader, loosed from the tractor, rolled back and hit his car, he said.
The Blazer rolled to a stop in the right-of-way in front of Huddle House, hundreds of feet away. Patrons and servers in Huddle House said they rushed out to help, though police were already on the scene.
The victims had to be extricated from the SUV by members of the Jacksonville Fire Department. They were also helped by two off-duty state troopers who were at the intersection at the time of the accident, Wineman said; he said the troopers were in a privately-owned vehicle that was struck by the tractor after the Blazer hit it.
Huddle House manager Tammy Carden was in the parking lot when she heard the crash.
“I looked up and saw somebody flying through the air, just somersaulting,” she said.
She believes it was the driver of the tractor. Other witnesses said they saw the driver lying in the road until ambulances arrived.
Wineman said the occupants of the Blazer were airlifted to the trauma center at UAB Hospital. He said Jacksonville police did not know the names of either victim. As of 4:30 p.m., Wineman said, both were in surgery.
Another victim was taken to Regional Medical Center, Thompson said.
The victim at RMC was William J. Chapman, the driver of the tractor, according to his son Ronald Chapman, who is an employee at The Anniston Star.
Ronald Chapman said his father had shoulder injuries requiring surgical treatment.
Wineman said that after the crash, the woman in the Blazer told police that she had been having chest pains, and that the man driving the Blazer had been taking her to the hospital.
Thompson said if the driver had pulled over for the police officer, the officer would have escorted the Blazer to Jacksonville Medical Center.
“That’s what you should do,” he said. “If you’re pulled over, just tell the officer you’re headed to the hospital and they’ll help you get there.”
Wineman said the driver of the Blazer may not have even noticed the police car before the wreck.
Alabama State Troopers are investigating the accident. Cpl. Tony Peck said investigators had been summoned to begin a vehicular homicide investigation.
Thompson later added that "vehicular homicide" is a generic term for an investigation into a wreck that could have caused a fatality. Thompson said all three victims were alive when they were taken from the scene of the accident.
Assistant Metro Editor Tim Lockette: 256-235-3560. On Twitter @TLockette_Star.