Flames and fear as truck causes carnage

THE out-of-control truck. The trail of destruction. The inferno. The terror and the screams.

This was Singleton’s main street on Wednesday, with the morning routine anything but, as an allegedly stolen truck collided with several cars, dragging one for up to 50 metres, before crashing into a power pole and bursting into flames shortly before 9am.

Another truck driver said getting out of his rig was like “stepping into a war zone” as the fire raged and the street was covered by the wreckage of twisted cars.

Bystanders rushed to rescue those trapped in their car as police converged on the scene.

“It was pure carnage,” Clifton Brett told the Newcastle Herald.

“He would have been doing a good 70 or 80 [km/h] and he just didn’t stop; he went from car to car and just punched through them like they weren’t there.”

What finally stopped the truck was a power pole, ending a joy ride that began in Murrurundi, more than 100km away, where it was allegedly stolen from a BP service station as its owner bought fuel.

Police deployed road spikes outside Singleton but it did not immediately stop the truck.

As the truck finally ground to a halt, its driver, Rodney Johnson, 29, allegedly attempted to run away from the burning wreck.

At least seven officers, with guns drawn, jumped on top of a shirtless Mr Johnson to make the arrest.

He was expected to be charged on Wednesday night with multiple offences.

The victims included a 67-year-old man who was suffering multiple injuries and in hospital in a critical but stable condition. 

In total there were eight victims, including four who were hospitalised, and seven cars caught in the path of the truck.

Two cars were wedged either side of a popular cafe. Two more in front of a car carrier. Others were scattered down the stretch of road, following the path of the truck.

The licensee of Singleton’s Royal Hotel, Andrew Herd, said seeing the trail of destruction was “enough to send a chill down your spine”.

The George Street pub, a neighbouring heritage-listed home and a bus shelter were severely damaged.

Building debris was still attached to the burnt-out truck.

“The whole building shook,” Mr Herd said of the terrifying ordeal.

“People were just literally sitting in the gutters just crying – you couldn’t get sense out of anyone. I was around for the ’89 earthquake and it was like that. Fire and destruction everywhere.”

Mother Rachel Furniss raced across the road after hearing the noise of the truck crashing down the street.

She said school children had just been picked up from the bus stop.

“I heard the bang, bang, bang,” she said. 

“I’m amazed there weren’t more people hurt … I’m surprised the driver survived.

“There could have been many more people there – the kids had only been there five minutes before.”

Gabrielle Brown saw the destruction and began to evacuate as a fuel tanker was parked nearby.

“I was scared there was going to be a massive explosion,” she said. “It still really hasn't sunk in yet, how close to danger we actually were.”