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Hundreds of turkeys killed in truck accident
Tractor trailer crashes along U.S. 220
Workers remove turkeys from cages of a tractor trailer that wrecked Wednesday on U.S. 220 North. The driver of the truck said he had to slow to avoid hitting a car in front of him on a hill and a sharp curve, causing the trailer to topple. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
Many of the estimated 960 turkeys en route to a processing facility in Harrisonburg died Wednesday when the truck hauling the birds wrecked.
Henry County Fire Marshal Pete Draper said his office was notified around 6:15 a.m. that a truck had gone off the left-hand side of U.S. 220 north, about a mile from the Dodge Store and Food Lion shopping center.
Mark Nepsa said he was driving the truck for contractor Gerald Clountz Trucking of Midland, N.C., when the incident occurred. He said he has been hauling the turkeys for Circle S Ranch in Monroe, N.C., for about 21?2 years.
This was the second reported wreck in the area of a truck from Gerald Clountz Trucking within a year. On June 14, a company driver was hauling about 600 turkeys for Circle S Ranch when it overturned on U.S. 220 in Ridgeway, according to Bulletin reports.
On Wednesday, Nepsa had cuts, scrapes and blood on his forehead and left shoulder from the accident.
Nepsa said his truck was the last one loaded Wednesday, and he was the last to leave Monroe for a processing plant called Cargill Meat Solutions.
Traveling on U.S. 220 north, “I was coming up the road in rush hour traffic” and driving in the right lane minutes before the single-vehicle accident, he said.
“A lot of people were in a hurry to get to work,” and several vehicles pulled onto U.S. 220 from a side road near the accident scene, Nepsa said. He moved his truck into the left lane to allow those vehicles to enter and then Nepsa said he turned on his signal to get back over into the right lane “when a car came right out in front of me.”
Going slightly downhill and into a sharp curve, Nepsa said he hit the brakes to keep from hitting the car in front of him. When he did, “the weight shifted ... I got on the brakes and being in a curve, everything shifts. I wasn’t going fast.”
The truck ran off the left-hand side of the road, hit the guardrail and slid sideways on the driver’s side.
“I was holding on with my eyes closed and hoping nothing didn’t come through the cab and kill me,” Nepsa said.
When the truck finally came to rest near the median, Nepsa said he initially thought he was stuck inside. The driver’s side door, cages on the driver’s side — and the turkeys inside those cages — were in a watery ditch that became a grave for many.
Nepsa said he could not move.
“It felt like everything had all shoved in on me ... I couldn’t get my big feet out” and was still in the truck when a passerby stopped and asked if he needed help, Nepsa said, adding that he climbed out of the passenger side.
At the scene Wednesday morning, he estimated the birds were stacked 12 to 13 feet high. He did not know how much weight was being carried.
In the poultry industry, Nepsa said, feed tankers and “turkey wagons are the easiest to turn over because of the weight and height.”
Many staff and volunteers of the Martinsville-Henry County SPCA were at the scene to help rescue the birds, hold and care for them or transport them, if needed.
However, emergency workers at the site told those workers they could not try to save the turkeys until after the truck was secured, and?or diesel fuel cleaned up to ensure there were no hazards, according to Leslie Hervey, executive director of the SPCA.
Around 10:30 or 11 a.m., an empty turkey hauler pulled up to the site. Shortly after that, and in the median, three or four men drove posts into the ground. Other workers hung temporary plastic orange fencing on the posts.
A supervisor from the farm, according to Nepsa, also was onsite and directed the empty turkey hauler into the median for easier loading of the live birds.
Shortly after that, a dozen or so men, all dressed in blue coveralls, scaled the bottom of the truck and went down on the other side to get to the cages.
As cages were opened, turkeys were freed. The dead birds were placed into a pile so workers could get better access to the live and?or injured birds. They were corralled inside the fence and either carried to the waiting turkey hauler or put into the scoop of a front-end loader from Brown & Son, Salem, and transported to the hauler.
Most of the turkeys were picked up and carried from under their wings.
A crane from Brown & Son arrived at the site before the unloading was finished. After the birds were removed, the crane was used to put the truck back on its base.
Draper said his office contacted the Virginia Department of Emergency Management (VDEM) to oversee the cleanup and line up the recovery workers and the cleanup crew.
Brian Thurman, with a HazMat truck from the VDEM, said the cleanup of diesel fuel would have to wait until after the wrecked truck was moved.
He said he did not know how much fuel may have spilled or the amount of damage that had been done and would not know until the cleanup began.
The responsible party will have to pay for the cleanup, Thurman added.
Two firefighters from the Collinsville Volunteer Fire Department planned to remain at the site until the truck was upright, Draper said.
Also responding to the scene were the Henry County Sheriff’s Office, the Virginia State Police and other emergency workers.
The trooper investigating the incident could not be reached for comment Wednesday.