FORT WORTH, Texas – What started as an average day for Ryan Chaney turned into a deadly demolition derby as he pulled people from the wreckage of a mass-casualty crash in Fort Worth on Thursday.
Chaney, an independent trucker from Argyle, Texas, was driving south on Interstate 35 to work, where he hauls power poles for Sabre Industries. The 6 a.m. traffic moved about 60 mph on mostly dry roads.
As he neared the 820 interchange, Chaney noticed his headlights reflecting off the road and realized there could be black ice. He and other traffic slowed to about 20 mph.
But as he reached the 35W bridge near downtown Fort Worth, the road turned into "a solid sheet of ice," he said. The driver next to him spun out and hit a barrier. He slid into the car, luckily not causing much damage, and gained enough control to pull to the side of the highway.
Chaney got out of his truck and stood next to a concrete barrier that separated him from the express lanes. He asked the other driver who spun out if he was all right. As the driver said that he was fine, he heard skidding sounds from the express lanes beside him. Chaney watched a car slide into the barrier inside the express lanes. Another car was unable to slow down and smashed into the first car.
"The truck behind that vehicle tried to sacrifice himself into the concrete barrier, but the ice was so slick that as soon as he hit the brakes, it was over," Chaney said. "He pushed them about 30 feet. And then it was car, truck, car, truck, car — it was never-ending."
Cars slid and crashed into one another for about three minutes. During a pause in the chaos, Chaney jumped over the barrier to try to help. He found some people who needed help getting out of their cars. Most people seemed OK, so Chaney started to walk through the pileup to see if more people needed help.
The crash got worse. A grain hopper truck smashed into the stopped cars and exploded, he said. "I couldn't see a foot in front of my face. All that stuff was in the air, and I figured that's where I should focus my attention, where it was worse."
He saw a woman inside a small car, crumpled to the point that he could not tell what kind of car it was. The woman was screaming, so he jumped the rail and tried to get to her. He was in between a semitrailer truck, the rear of a semi, and her car, which was wedged between the two vehicles.
He was trying to help her out of the trapped car when he saw a Fed-Ex truck heading toward them. He dove under the semi and watched helplessly as the truck slammed into the woman.
"And she was crushed to death," he said.
On Facebook, Chaney described the moment.
"I witnessed (someone) die in front of me, where I barely got out with my life. I mean, nearly missed it," he said in the video. "I heard the truck hit, I heard the explosion, then I heard cars and metal crunching, and I threw myself under a semi truck trailer just behind me. And that lady that I was trying to get out of her car got crushed to death. But I did rescue a few other people who I was able to drag out of their vehicle."
After he watched the woman die, Chaney said his "brain kind of shut off."
He remembers a second truck hit the growing pileup at high speed. Cars continued to pile on top of one another. Fires sprang from the wreckage, and Chaney turned toward the front of the crash site again.
A man yelled for him, saying a woman was trapped in her car. She was on her phone and screaming. Chaney used his fists and a pocket blade to knock out her window and pull her out of the car.
"Some of it, I don't remember," he said. "After that lady got crushed, I don't remember much."
In total, about 160 vehicles were part of the roughly mile-long wreckage, according to authorities. Six people have been confirmed dead, and about 65 were injured.
On Facebook, he described the crash as "a genocide of metal."