On This Day in FFD History

February 19, 2018 Events  No comments


Reprinted from the Cumberland Times-News. Thursday February 19, 1981

Runaway Truck Causes Death and Destruction

Yesterday’s tragedy which killed three and injured 18 persons on Frostburg’s narrow Main Street would have been of even more monumental proportions, says Lt. Robert R. Yinger of the Maryland State Police, had the runaway truck hit 20 yards either way or had the accident occurred 20 minutes earlier.

The accident occurred in the 100 block of East Main Street at 4:10 p.m. with the truck speed climbing as high as 80 mph, sideswiping 16 cars and one truck. The cab section of the truck crashed into Stoops’ Restaurant, the only building on the street says Lt. Yingler, which is a single building and not connected. It immediately burst into flames. The trailer section, loaded with lumber, overturned in the street with its wheels in the air.

Flames shot high in the air and raged out of control for more than two hours. Thirteen area volunteer firemen were treated for smoke inhalation or burns and five were admitted to hospitals. During the height of the blaze, Police & Fire Commissioner Robert L. Connor said firemen had a plentiful water supply. Those that witnessed the mishap said the structure burst into flames upon impact by the rig. Heavy black smoke poured from the building and flames burst forth. The smoke could be seen as far away as Route 36.
Frostburg firemen were the first to be dispatched to the scene by Allegany County Civil defense. One fireman said he heard several explosions and when he looked up and saw the smoke, he thought a gas station in the middle of town had blown up.

All the victims either were operators or passengers in the vehicles involved. Dead at the scene were Mrs. Ruth Margaret Bowen, 52 of Frostburg, wife of District Court Judge Miller Bowen, who was at the scene and immediately recognized his wife’s car; Charles Harrison Mitter, 61, of Luke, and his son-in-law, the Rev. Gary E. Marsh, 31, of Frostburg, who was in the process of building the nationally known Noah’s Ark.

Mrs. Bowen was the first victim to be identified by police. The two men were not discovered until hours later after debris had been cleared and investigators had discovered an engine which didn’t match any of the vehicles accounted for. Police theorized that the vehicle had been pushed into the restaurant by the truck. It was later discovered under the truck.

Thirty-seven year old Robert Keyser of Angola, IN., driver of the lumber truck, which has a Michigan registration, was taken to sacred Heart Hospital then transferred by Medevac helicopter to the Baltimore City Hospital’s Burn Unit. He is listed in critical condition with burns over 25 percent of his body and is expected to undergo surgery tomorrow.

All occupants of the nine apartments above the restaurant were accounted for by this morning according to State Police. Lt. Yingler said the situation was well handled, as firemen had the area roped off and rescue squads already working on the injured, shortly after the accident.

Fifteen Troopers and 100 volunteer firemen responded to the disaster which extended over a two-block span. Allegany County fire companies involved included Frostburg, Clarysville, LaVale, Midland, Bowling Green, Corriganville, Lonaconing, Barton, Westernport and McCoole while Garrett County companies included Accident, Bittinger, Deer Park, Grantsville, Oakland, Eastern Garrett Friendsville and Deep Creek. Units responding from Washington County were Hancock, Clear Spring, Funkstown, Maugansville and Hagerstown. Assistance was also offered by Salisbury and Bedford PA and Peidmont, WV. Beall High School’s football field was lighted for helicopter landings. Ambulances transporting the victims were Frostburg, Georges Creek, LaVale and Mt. Savage.

Al Via of Via’s Restaurant allowed State Police to establish a base of command there while the Elks Lodge, Princess Restaurant and the American Red Cross provided food and refreshments as police investigators and fire officials worked through the night.

Frostburg City Police and City officials authorized the razing of the remainder of Stoops after the walls were declared unstable and would result in injuries if they fell. George Construction Company provided the crane for the operation. All traffic was cleared on Main Street early this morning.

*More photos can be found at Frostburg Fire Department Facebook page*

Leave a reply