UNION — A tanker truck driver was seen on video escaping the massive blaze that resulted from a crash on Route 78 in Union by crawling out of his windshield. A Chatham man was killed in the crash, according to State Police.
James Pinaire, 24, was driving an Audi A4 from the Garden State Parkway ramp to Route 78 westbound when he traveled into the path of the tanker, which hit his car, according to a state police spokesman. Both vehicles then crashed with a tractor-trailer hauling mulch in the left express lane.
The tanker and big-rig continued off the left express lane before the fuel truck became mounted on the concrete barrier, spokesman Sgt. Gregory Williams said, citing a preliminary investigation. The 9,000 gallons of fuel in the tanker ignited and flames engulfed both trucks, he said.
Pinaire, the Audi driver, was pronounced dead at the scene, the spokesman said. The tanker truck driver – Balwinder Singh, 35, of Valley Stream, New York – was listed in critical condition after he managed to climb through the windshield of the burning truck.
Joe DeGioia, 28, was driving to Hoboken on 78 eastbound when he saw the crash and began to take video, ultimately capturing the moment Singh escaped.
"I saw it in the distance and I didn’t think anything of it, but when I got closer it was surreal," DeGioia said. "I started taking video and you can hear two or three explosions and then I saw the man crawl out of the windshield of the truck. After that I stopped recording."
DeGioia said Singh walked to the side of the road and looked "completely out of it," before paramedics came and assisted him.
"I drove over the median from the express lane to the local lane like a lot of other people were," DeGioia said. "Even three lanes away I could feel the heat. It felt like I was standing next to the biggest bonfire."
Williams said the mulch truck driver, Mario Quiroz, 53, of North Bergen, was treated and released from an area hospital.
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A tractor-trailer fire and a multi-vehicle crash on Route 78 in Union were causing significant delays Saturday afternoon. (Submitted photo)
Justin Zaremba | NJ Advance Media for NJ.com
The raging fuel-fed blaze sent thick dark smoke and flames above the scene and left motorists stuck in major traffic for at least four hours.
A specialized fire rescue team from Newark Liberty International Airport was dispatched to help in the firefighting efforts, a Port Authority police spokesman said. The agency’s Aircraft Rescue Firefighting truck is used to battle fires involving large amounts of fuel.
The local and express lanes of Route 78 were closed around 1 p.m. between Exit 51 and Exit 54, according to the state Department of Transportation. The highway’s eastbound lanes were later reopened, but only one lane was open on the westbound side as of 8 p.m., according to Williams.
Staff writers Noah Cohen and Brian Amaral contributed to this report.
* On approved credit