Singleton truck crash: in the path of an out-of-control rig

SINGLETON’S Karren Smith calls it “the pole that saved my life”. 

Ironically, the power pole’s very existence used to frustrate her, describing it as an “ugly” blight on her cafe, Happy Grillmores, on the town’s main street.

On Wednesday, the pole was the only thing standing between Ms Smith, her loyal customers, an out-of-control truck and a car chaotically shunted down the street.

“I thought I was going to die on my shopfront,” she told the Newcastle Herald. “You just wanted to run. Here I am scratching for the doors trying to save my life.”

Ms Smith knew something was wrong when traffic started to bank back in George Street’s north-bound lane shortly before 9am.

WRECK: The car that was shunted into the power pole outside the Happy Grillmores cafe in Singleton on Wednesday. Picture: Brodie Owen

WRECK: The car that was shunted into the power pole outside the Happy Grillmores cafe in Singleton on Wednesday. Picture: Brodie Owen

News began to trickle in via word of mouth that police were chasing an allegedly stolen truck careering down the New England Highway, apparently colliding with at least one motorist and failing to stop.

What locals didn’t know was that police attempts to halt the truck had failed.

Road spikes used near the railway overpass at Singleton Heights – known as the “hole in the wall” – punctured tyres, but police said the rig was still able to travel at least two more kilometres before grinding to a fiery halt.

As Ms Smith stepped outside, providing directions to tourists visiting wine country, the truck loomed on the horizon.

“Another customer, Simon [Marrable], who’s a doctor, showed up and we stood there for a while and had a chat on the kerb,” she said.

“We heard it before we saw it. He turned to me and said, ‘My God, Karren, that truck is really moving’.

“We were just faced by this truck clearing everything in its path.

“A car – which we knew had somebody inside it – was coming straight for us.”

The car slammed into the power pole and the runaway truck kept going. 

The cafe became a treatment room, customers were now patients, and Singleton’s main street resembled a “war zone”.

AFTERMATH: Workers attempt to stabilise a heritage-listed home on Thursday after it was damaged by the fast-moving truck. Picture: Marina Neil

AFTERMATH: Workers attempt to stabilise a heritage-listed home on Thursday after it was damaged by the fast-moving truck. Picture: Marina Neil

Dr Simon Marrable, one of the town’s general practitioners, began to prioritise the injuries and calm bystanders, despite his own car being dragged and totalled by the truck.

The first car Dr Marrable opened contained a 67-year-old man who had critical injuries.

“Singleton was just shocked yesterday,” he said of how the town came to grips with the ordeal.

“People weren’t going anywhere; people just hunkered down.

“Almost everyone you talk to, no one went down that main street, such was what happened.

“When this happens on your front door, it does affect people.

“But I’m hoping people just have a sense that, ‘There by the grace of God’, and they kiss their families, because what happened yesterday could have been so much worse.”

Most businesses had resumed trade on Thursday and George Street was open to traffic at a reduced speed.

INFERNO: Smoke blankets George Street after the alleged stolen truck bursts into flames. Police arrested and charged 27-year-old Rodney Johnson. Picture: Elise Pfeiffer

INFERNO: Smoke blankets George Street after the alleged stolen truck bursts into flames. Police arrested and charged 27-year-old Rodney Johnson. Picture: Elise Pfeiffer

Building assessors remained in the area, while the Royal Hotel and a neighbouring heritage home, both caught in the crossfire, were shored up with scaffolding to ensure their stability.

Royal Hotel licensee Andrew Herd said the town had banded together in the wake of the ordeal.

“Singleton’s such a tight-knit community,” he said.

“Everyone’s been asking how they can help out, which you expect around here.

“When you think about what happened, and what could have happened, I think most people are relieved.

“While there were people hurt, no one was killed – which is a really good result.”

Most residents the Herald spoke to praised police efforts to halt the truck.

“They did well,” said Horse and Jockey Hotel publican Daniel Storey.

“When everything happened as fast as it did, you do what you can. They put their own safety at risk to protect the public, that’s always got to be remembered.”

Brad Lambkin, who was on the scene at the time of the crash, said it was a miracle no one died given the “chaos” on the main street.

“People are quick to criticise, but you never really know unless you were there,” he said.

Ms Smith added: “I wouldn’t say the police did the right thing, I wouldn’t say police did the wrong thing, but they got their man. They made the arrest. It’s just one of those surreal things. It wasn’t a great outcome, but Christ, it could have been a lot worse.”

Meanwhile, mayor Sue Moore was leading renewed calls for the Singleton bypass.