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PGFD Beltway crash update: West Lanham Hills VFD Chief John Alter disputes police account of how collision occurred. Says no U-turn at I-95/495 emergency turn-around.

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Extensive series of photographs from Beltway crash scene from Todd Sherman, Northern Illinois FireGround Photos

Jennifer Donelan, WJLA-TV:

Tonight the West Lanham fire chief is disputing the official account of what caused a crash that injured seven people in a Beltway crash, including four firefighters.

One of those men underwent hours of surgery to have his arm re-attached after the rollover crash.

Chief John Alter said he can’t stand by and watch his guys take the blame for something he says they didn’t do. One of their own was critically hurt in this accident but there is another black cloud hanging over this station.

West Lanham Hills VFD Chief John Alter.

Volunteer firefighter. Lt. Ryan Emmons, 30, continues to recover after his arm was severed early Wednesday morning during an accident involving his fire engine and a tractor trailer.

Instead of complete relief, Alter said there is great angst.

Late Wednesday afternoon, Prince George’s County Police released their preliminary findings on the accident which had the Beltway closed for hours, saying the fire engine was just leaving an accident call when it tried to make a U-turn at an emergency vehicle access point.

West Lanham Hills VFD Lt. Ryan Emmons.

Police say the engine collided with a tractor trailer, which sources say had the right of way. The two trucks slid into the median and hit a Jeep SUV. In all, seven people were hurt, including four firefighters.

Three of those firefighters have been released from an area hospital, County Fire Chief Marc Bashoor said.

“We just believe that they were attempting to make a U-turn on 495,” says Lt. William Alexander, a PGPD spokesperson.

Scene photos by Todd Sherman, Northern Illinois FireGround Photos, who was riding with Kentland VFD on Wednesday morning.

“Were they making a U-turn?” asks Alter. “No ma’am, they were not. They were slowing down for a call.”

Alter says his four firefighters were driving on the inner loop of the Beltway and just as they arrived at an accident call, which was on the opposite side, dispatch told them they weren’t needed.

Alter says his guys who had slowed down were about to continue forward on the inner loop and head home when he said the driver looked behind him and noticed a tractor trailer bearing down on him. He says the driver pushed on the gas to speed up.

“I credit the driver of the apparatus for saving my fellow firefighters’ lives,” Alter says.

Alter says the semi slammed right into the back of the engine. When showed a photo ABC7 obtained, the chief explained if the engine had been making a U-turn there would be damage on the driver’s side.

Alter says the engine driver, an Afghanistan war vet, was first to reach Emmons and he wrapped eEmmons’ arm in a tourniquet and stopped the bleeding.

Alter says the engine driver didn’t put lives at risk, he saved lives.

“We have a long recovery to go,” Alter says. “I can’t wait for this erroneous report to go away, so we can get back to serving the community.”

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Comments - Add Yours

  • Dave LeBlanc

    Well they ought to be able to listen to the tapes and figure that one out. Seems like maybe someone was quick to judge. Godspeed to the injured…..

  • Jason Low

    I (an uninvolved commenter from across the continent) raised the opinion that a U-turn was in progress based on a sign I saw on the news video that indicated such a feature may have been present at that location. I didn’t for one moment mean to insinuate that the engine crew was at fault, but that slowing down on the left side of a freeway has potential to be dangerous. It hit home to me because my department runs calls on a freeway that has crossovers allowing for U-turns by emergency vehicles and road works vehicles, etc.

    Another commenter replied to me that no trucks are allowed on the inner lanes of 495 period, so regardless of whether or not the engine was trying to turn around, the semi most likely did not have ‘the right of way’.

  • Mike

    I don’t understand. If the truck was making a U turn it would have been struck on the officer’s side or rear. They are saying that it would have been struck on the driver’s side. So was the truck going into oncoming traffic to begin with then?

    • Anonymous

      You go to make a u-turn, tractor trailer coming up behind you… How would it hit your passenger side? Both vehicles were on the inner loop traveling the same direction.

  • David S.

    What a bunch of B.S., chief alter you are correct as far as I have viewed everything the falt lies on the on the driver of the tractor trailer period.

  • Anonymous

    If you look at the pics, the wagon was pushed from the outer loop to the inner. If 28 was responding to an accident on the beltway in the area where the accident occurred they would be on the inner loop. The chief’s statement doesn’t add up with what’s on scene. The wagon had to have been on the outer loop, returning from a call. I’m sure a full investigation will reveal the truth. BTW, PGFD has a long standing general order against u-turns on 495 for any emergency vehicle whether responding or not.

    • Anonymous

      You have now idea what your talking about. Think of thumper. The eng was on the innerloop they got hit. It spun them. And the tractor trailer jumped the median. So why dont you ask some one who was there than just come up with bs conclusions.


    I’ll try not to play Matlock here, because I’m getting a tad confused on which side would have been hit etc….however, ill just say, its nice to see a Chief who defends and sticks up for his men, which is something that’s quite rare these days…

    • Anonymous

      chief was not there


    Having a little knowledge of the beltway, I have a question. I would like to know why the semi driver was in the number one lane. I thought there is a no semi’s in the extreme left lane rule. Now, if the Pumper driver was trying to cut the turn-around, this would probably explain the C/O side extensive damage. Because, he probably drifted into the right lane to make the turn. And, that’s when the semi clipped them. Regardless, thoughts and prayers for all involved.

  • Catch22

    If the chief’s story is accurate, I have to question why the crew was stopping for an accident on the opposite side of the barrier. That has been shown time and time again to be dangerous and to put personnel at risk.

  • Pedro

    A dashboard camera would sort all this out. There would be no need for anyone to go on record stating anything. No need for anyone to “do the right thing” and “tell the story right”. I pray for the speedy and whole recovery for Lt. Ryan Emmons. God only knows we don’t expect to come home without fingers and toes, much less the injuries he sustained.

    • Anonymous

      28’s wagon are older so they don’t have dashcams installed. We’ll have to go on the police investigation to sort it all out. You can’t rely on the chief’s words as he will defend his crews (rightly so). I’ve responded to calls on the beltway with 28 and I’ve seen them pull the old u turn manuever before. Not saying they did it this time, just saying I’ve seen them do it before.

  • CareerFF

    The standard for companies in different counties on the beltway is to have a response on both the inner and outer loops on the Beltway in case it is reported in the wrong location etc.

    From what I have heard a big issue is that if they did make a U-turn is the driver going to be held accountable by PGFD.
    U-turns are allowed by the state, but PGFD has an order prohibiting U-turns apparently

  • He

    Anonymous says

    You have now idea what your talking about. Think of thumper. The eng was on the innerloop they got hit. It spun them. And the tractor trailer jumped the median. So why dont you ask some one who was there than just come up with bs conclusions.

    Where did you get this version? AND,,,since there was abviously SOMEONE on scene of the call they were dispatched,,someone on scene canceled them,,why aren’t they speaking up,,they have to have heard or seen the accident. AND,, why isn’t the T/T drivers version being told. I think there is a lot of BS going on here.

  • Northern Chief

    We are guessing and speculating on this forum. The Officer investigating the accident must have good reason to believe this tactic was used (or was going to be)or it wouldn’t have been published. Either way, KUDOS for the Chief for stepping up and believing his crews and reporting it. It is not for us to speculate; we have all done this tactic at one time or another. Just like we would never enter a building without our SCBA mask on (right) and we would never put the truck in drive without a seat belt on (sure). What we need to do is concentrate our efforts on prayers and thoughts for the injured firefighter and the crew that was on the truck that day. This incident will plaques them mentally for the rest of their career. Hopefully, we all can take a lesson from this crash and just hope we never have it happen to us…Get Well Brother

    • He

      Northern Chief,,,,,,,,,,,Amen.

  • Anonymous says

    The Chief comes across like some kind of a thug. It’s nice that he’s defending his guys but what facts does he have to back up his story. The Police Lieutenant came across more believable and unbiased.

  • O cool

    An anonymous says ” 28’s wagon are older so they don’t have dashcams installed.” So how old is old? 1992? Just drove an engine the other day and it has a dashcam. What about 1989? Yup that one is our regular piece and has a dashcam. County standard, all have to have dashcam Installed. So how does 28 not have a dashcam?

    • Anonymous

      Old as in prior to dashcams being required. Units that were in service prior to the county requirement were grandfathered and do not have them installed. There are numerous pieces in the county that do not have them.

  • PG Chicken Eatter

    Well hey we will all see on Monday and or Tuesday what the actual accident report says. Why don’t we all stop bashing the driver and each other until than. To my knowledge there is still a FireMen in the hospital with an injury. Just keep him as your main concern now. The driver did a hell of a job keeping the rig and them men from being allot worse. Take care “Men of company 28″.

  • He said she said


    There is a ton wrong with this scenario. One being the fact that maybe the police don’t have a statement from the tractor trailer driver. The engine and t/t were on the same side of the road, the inner loop and if the engine were making the u-turn, the drivers side would have been hit if they were in the process of making the turn. Why? Because when turning left, the drivers side is exposed to the traffic that is behind the vehicle and flowing in the same direction. Hope that clears it up for ya. The story is confusing and not sure who to believe.

  • Cosgrove

    Gee Dave where did my comment go????????

    • dave statter

      My dear friend Cosgrove,

      Hope you are well. In answer to your question, I try not approve comments where those writing in take on the role of reporter. Your post injected something into the story that had not been reported. You even referred to it as having “allegedly” occurred. From my long personal experience with you I have no reason to doubt your information. You have never steered me wrong. but, as much as possible, I want this forum to be about opinions and not someone being a reporter. If that information is reported, I will be glad to run it here. BTW you aren’t the first to mention it and have their comment trashed, so don’t think you are so special (in fact, I didn’t realize it was from you until you wrote in a second time).

      Another comment that didn’t get posted was from someone who stated something as fact about one of the people who has appeared in the news coverage of this story. I have no problem with someone telling us their opinion of that person, short of just idiotic name calling. But again, leave the reporting to others or go open up your own version of Man Cave News (which BTW I think would be a perfect post FD career for you Cosgrove).

      Best to all.


  • Art of Fire

    Point of impact is irrelevant in the discussion. If the wagon had completed the U-turn and was accelerating to come up to highway speeds and the tractor trailer overtook the wagon and struck it from behind, then you would have damage only on the rear of the wagon.

    In that scenario, fault could be shared between both vehicles. So don’t try to decipher the actions based on photos. Unless of course you are a certified collision reconstructionist.

    In the end, there are mechanisms in place to determine what happened. Let’s be patient and let them work.

    And foremost, let’s hope for a speedy recovery for all involved.

  • Capt Dick

    Fault will assigned by the cop shop. It’s up to the rest of us to learn a lesson, no matter who is to blame im sure it was avoidable when all facts are analyzed . Hopefully that young man didn’t have his arm severely injured for nothing.

  • Anonymous

    It makes perfect sense to me that they were slowing down to make a U-turn. Follow this chain of events.
    1) Engine slows as it approaches the opening in the median.
    2) As the engine begins to make a left turn through the median, the right rear naturally swings out to the right some.
    3) Regardless of how close the Tractor Trailer was following his rate of closure would have been very quick.
    4) He realizes he is rapidly approaching the rear of the engine and begins to steer right and away from the engine.
    5) He clips the right rear of the engine (Where it looks like most of the damage was)
    6) The impact on the right rear spins the engine around counter-clockwise and the concrete barrier stops the spin.
    7) The truck rolls past the engine.

    • Bullets

      If both vehicles were traveling in the same direction on the same side of a divided highway, then damage should be on the rear.

      If they were on the same side and the engine was making a U turn, damage should be on the drivers side

      If they were traveling in opposite directions and the engine was making a u turn and pulling into traffic damage should be on the passenger side

      Where is the damage

      If they were both traveling in the same direction and the semi was approaching from the rear, its physically impossible to have damage halfway up the passenger side

      • dave statter


        All of what you say makes sense, and I have read everyone’s views on this with great interest. But no one seems to be discussing a scenario where the engine was struck just as it completed a u-turn? And I have no information that it happened that way.

        I ask this not having a clue what happened and have no reason to doubt anyone’s account. Just a question that pops out at me.


    • He

      @Anonymous…….Ding Ding Ding,,,,we have a winner. That is EXACTLY what I think happened!!!!!! I’ll bet the farm the accident report states just this.

  • He

    @ Dave Statter,,,,,, I was also pondering whether or not they had just completed the u turn also. After a thorough review of the extensive pictures supplied by Todd Sherman(link on this site), the photo evidence shows the Wagon was on the approach side of the Emergency x-over (evidenced by the debris field at the point of impact). Had the Wagon just completed the u turn, there would not have been any debris in the Emergency x-over area, as they would have been on the departure side of said x-over. Photo 103 shows skid marks( just in front of PD vehicle) and debris field prior to and adjacent to X-over.

  • He

    @ Bullets,,,,,, how about this scenario. The Wagon was slowing down in the hammer lane on it’s approach to the x-over (imagine how slow you would be going before you initiated the u-turn,probably 10mph or below). The T/T approached from behind,and notices the Wagon in the same lane in front of him, is going woefully slower than him, and will violently contact very shortly. The T/T driver cannot turn to the left(Jersey Barrier), so immediately jerks the wheel to the direction of the only open area, the right. REMEMBER, the wagon has not began it’s turn, only slowed down in it’s lane in preperation. NOW PICTURE THIS, the front LEFT of the T/T would have struck the rear right of the Wagon(VIOLENTLY) and spun the Wagon counterclockwise towards the median (the pictures show this is what happened). The collision would have catipulted the T/T into the median also. NOTE- THERE IS NO EVIDENCE OF A U-TURN MANUEVER BEING ATTEMPTED, ONLY EVIDENCE OF PREPERATION FOR A POSSIBLE U-TURN,,,,,,,,,,

  • Anonymous

    All I have to say being an ex fireman of 16 years having my fair share of near misses, I blame it on the tractor trailer driver, You so called idiots that drive on the road and DONT SLOW DOWN AND MOVE TO THE RIGHT like your supposed to do when you see emergency lights, or are to busy doing things that your not supposed to be doing while driving your 4000 lbs death weapon, you all need to get your head out of your ***!!!! I have almost been run down by idiots not paying attention on RT 51, so close one night a mirror just grazed me, I would have been killed if not paying attention and jumping onto the running board of the truck, the officer that was on scene couldn’t believe it and gave chase. Remember this, if it was your kid out there, would you drive by them that fast??? How about if I do it. SLOW DOWN, you will get there just a few minutes later.