Apparatus Accidents with Civilian Fatalities

This is an updated blog version of a Facebook posting from 2009.

What’s the historical perspective of civilian fatalities in fire apparatus accidents across our state? Here’s that secret history. 


  • 2023 – Charlotte
  • 2019 – Kannapolis
  • 2011 – Kernersville
  • 2005 – Statesville
  • 1997 – Charlotte
  • 1985 – Greensboro
  • 1982 – Charlotte
  • 1980 – Steele Creek (Mecklenburg)
  • 1975 – Durham
  • 1966 – Wilmington
  • 1963 – Lenoir
  • 1957 – Durham
  • 1953 – Goldsboro
  • 1933 – New Bern
  • 1929 – Raleigh
  • 1926 – Charlotte
  • 1923 – Raleigh


2023, Jan 30 – Charlotte – Ladder 24 collided with a motorcycle at the intersection of Pineville-Matthews Road and McMahon Drive, while the unit was responding to a medical call. The unit was dispatched at 5:36 p.m. to the 7700 block of Little Avenue. At around 5:40 p.m., the ladder truck was proceeding through the intersection when it collided with the motorcycle. The crew immediately began treating the motorcycle, who later died of his injuries. Source: Spectrum News.

Charlotte – January 30, 2023 – WCCB-TV photo

2019, Mar 19 – Kannapolis – Engine 31 collided with an automobile on Centergrove Road. The car crossed the center line and struck the apparatus head on. The lone occupant of the car, age 29, died at the hospital. The four firefighters suffered minor injuries and were also transported. Speed was not a factor, but the driver was apparently either reaching for something in the back of the car or suffering from a medical event. The driver was not wearing a seat belt. Source: [goes here]

Kannapolis – March 19, 2019 – Kannapolis Fire Department photo

2011, Jun 12 – Kernersville – Engine 41 collided with a car in the 600 block of South Cherry Street. The apparatus was responded to a brush fire when the automobile pulled into its path. Two people were in the car. The male driver, age 80, was killed and his wife was transported with injuries. The three firefighters aboard the apparatus suffered minor injuries and were treated and released at the hospital. Source: [goes here]

2005, Feb 17 – Statesville – Engine 3 collided with a sport-utility vehicle on Mocksville Highway between Greenbrier Road and Broad Street. The older driver crossed the center line of the highway at an estimated 75 miles per house and struck the apparatus head on. It was believed that the driver had suffered a medical emergency. The pumper left the roadway and entered a muddy ditch, but sunk in mud, which prevented a rollover. Source: Oral history.

Statesville – February 17, 2005 – Greg Armstrong photo

1997, Apr 4 – Charlotte – Engine [?] collided with a Honda Accord on Park Road near the Seneca Avenue intersection. The apparatus was responding to a reported fire at the Woodlawn House apartments and was operating its lights and siren when the collision occurred at 8:51 p.m. One occupant was killed instantly and a second person in the car was transported in critical condition to Carolinas Medical Center. Two firefighters were transported to Presbyterian Hospital, with non-life threatening injuries. Source: Charlotte Observer, April 5, 1997.

1985, Oct 22 – Greensboro – Ladder _ collided with a car at the intersection of Elm-Eugene and Florida streets while responding to an emergency call, which turned out to be a false alarm. The American LaFrance aerial ladder was the third of three units to proceed through the intersection on Elm-Eugene Street, following a pumper and quick-response unit. The first two units had green lights, reported initial news reports. It was later determined that the third unit had a red light.

The fire truck struck a Chevy Monte Carlo headed west of Florida Street, that crossed into the path of the apparatus. Anabelle Johnson, 61, was the only occupant and died at the scene. The apparatus struck the car and both vehicles subsequently struck a taxi, with no injuries to the occupants of the taxi. Two firefighters, including the apparatus operator, were treated and released at Cone Hospital.

Investigators later determined that the apparatus operator apparently violated city policy restricting emergency vehicles from going through intersections at more than 10 mph over the speed limit. It was traveling between 25 mph and 45 mph at the time of the accident.

There was no violation of state law, however, which was changed on October 1, 1985, to allow emergency vehicles to “automatically run through” controlled intersections and even if facing a red light or stop sign. No charges were filed against the fire department driver.

The deceased driver had 0.16 blood alcohol content, which exceeded the 0.10 legal limit, investigators determined, but her “apparent intoxication” was not a factor in the accident, they said. They also found that her car radio was turned on.

Outcomes of the incident included a new department safety policy and the installation of Opticom traffic control system.

The first phase of the Opticom system was completed in June 1988. By the spring of 1989, the system had been added at 33 intersections in the city. The sites selected were those identified as high hazard or along high traffic corridors.

In 1987, the husband of the victim filed a lawsuit with the City of Greensboro, alleging negligence in the death of his wife. The suit was filed by Edward L. Johnson in Guilford Superior Court in October 1997. It named the apparatus operate and company officer as defendants. He asked for more than $10,000 in actual and punative damages.

Source: News & Record, October 23, 1985; November 16, 1985; October 22, 1987; GFD 1990 History Book; Oral histories.

Greensboro – October 22, 1985 – News & Record

1982, Feb 7 – Charlotte – The engine [?] collided with a 1979 Toyota at LaSalle Street and Beatties Ford Road about 8 p.m. The unit was responding to a fire and entered the intersection against the red light. The apparatus operator slowed to about 15 mph and subsequently structure the automobile. The driver, Darrah Wright, 27, sustained head injuries and died less than hour after the accident. The following May, her husband filed a $2.1 million lawsuit against the site and the apparatus operator. Source: Charlotte Observer, May 24, 1983.

1980, Nov 12 – Steele Creek (Mecklenburg) – The engine collided with a 1979 Toyota Celica at the intersection of NC 49 and Westinghouse Boulevard. It was answering a fire call off Sandy Porter Road, what turned out to be a grill fire, entered against the red light, and was operating the lights and siren. Witness reported that the engine slowed as the driver observed cars slowing, but continued through the light at [estimated] 35 mph. The opposing car was traveling 45 mph east on Westinghouse. The engine, carrying 750 gallons of water, pushed the car 97 feet, with the half of the car underneath the apparatus. Eva Moore Ross, 28, received multiple injuries including fractured legs, ribs, and head injuries, and died at the hospital days later. The volunteer firefighter driver was charged with running a red light. Source: Charlotte Observer, November 12, 1980; November 18, 1980.

1975, Apr 30 – Durham – The county fire truck, operated by city firefighters, collided with a station wagon at the intersection of East Geer Street and Alston Avenue. The driver of the car died at the scene and the four firemen were treated and released from Watts Hospital. The apparatus was totaled. The car reportedly ran into the path of the engine, which was responding to a reported house fire on East Geer Street. The call was dispatched about 10:30 a.m.

A second engine was dispatched to the call and also had an accident, colliding with a car at the intersection of Hardee Street and Cheek Road. The driver of the car in the second accident was transported and his vehicle was totaled. He reportedly also pulled into the path of the approaching engine. The second apparatus was reported as “salvageable” and no firefighters were injured.

A third engine was dispatched to the call and arrived without incident. Crews found an overheated water heater, but no fire. Source: Legeros research.

Durham – April 30, 1975 – Durham Herald photo

1966, Jan 9 – Wilmington – Engine (?) collided with a car at the intersection of [goes here] while responding to a house fire. Three people were in the automobile that was being driven by a 20 year-old woman. Her father, 53, was killed. The car’s driver and her mother were injured but not seriously. None of the four firefighters were injured. Source: Durham Morning Herald, January 10, 1966. 

1963, Jan 10 – Lenoir. Engine [?] collided with a car at an intersection, then struck two parked hours. Robey O. Craig, 76, died of his injuries a few hours later, while his wife, 73, was reported in critical condition. Officers said the car pulled in front of the “20,000 pound truck” which was travelled between 30 and 35 mph. Source: News & Observer, January 11, 1963.

1957, Dec 22 – Durham – The county fire truck, operated by city firefighters, collided with a passenger car at the intersection of Trinity Avenue and Mangum Street. The driver of the car was killed instantly and three family members were injured, including the driver’s wife, who was admitted to Watts Hospital in critical collision. Three of the five firefighters were also injured, with two admitted to the hospital “in a state of shock.”

The apparatus was answering a fire call on Hamlin Road. The vehicles collided in the middle of the intersection. Both the driver and his wife were thrown from the car. The apparatus operator, Harold Roberts, was charged with manslaughter. At least one witness said that the car had the green light. However, police said that fire trucks were not required by law to stop for stop lights when answering an emergency call.

About “5,000 to 6,000 persons were attracted to the scene” during the incident, said news reports. And nine police officers were called to the scene, for crowd and traffic control, as cars “jammed the adjoining streets.”

A grand jury later declined to indict the driver. The collision occurred two blocks past “North Durham Five Points” and past the point where the fire department’s “stoplight controls” ended, noted news reports. Source: Legeros research; News & Observer, December 23, 1957.

Durham – December 22, 1957 – Durham Herald-Sun photo

1953, Aug 2 – Goldsboro – Engine (?) struck a car at the intersection of George and Pine streets. The 75 year-old driver died at the hospital. Reported the fire chief, the apparatus entered the intersection on a green light and with its “five red lights” operating as well as the siren. The car entered the intersection and was struck in the side. The deceased driver was ruled at fault. Source: News & Observer, August 6, 1953. 

1933, Dec 2 – New Bern – Atlantic Company engine crashed into a “light coach” at an intersection. Three local mill workers were aboard, one was killed. The car was driving “rapidly up the street” and started across the intersection and directly in front of “the swiftly approaching truck.” The apparatus was answering a fire alarm, with Fire Chief James B. Simpson following close behind. The apparatus operator tried to avoid the car, which struck the front of the fire truck.

The apparatus operator and two volunteer firefighters were thrown to the ground, all uninjured. One of the three occupants died at the hospital. Another was critically injured, and the third suffered less serious injuries. There was evidence that the three men had been drinking. The apparatus involved was the Atlantic Company’s 1915 American LaFrance triple-combination pumper.

Sources: News & Observer, December 2, 1923; History of Firefighting in New Bern North Carolina – Colonial Days to the 21st Century, by Daniel Bartholf.

1929, Jun 17 – Raleigh – Engine _ struck an automobile at the intersection of Blount and Lenoir streets, while answering an alarm from Box 242, at the corner of Lenoir and Swain Streets. The apparatus subsequently struck a tree. Firefighter H. R. Winston, who was standing on the left running board, was slightly injured. The other firefighters “escaped with bruises.” The passenger in the automobile was killed, Newton Williams. The driver of the car was injured.

The engine was travelling east on Lenoir Street, with its siren “screaming its warning.” The Ford automobile was travelling south on Blount Street. The driver of the engine “cut sharply” to avoid a collision, but the “heavy, speeding truck was too close to the intersection” when the car “shot across in front of it.” The victim apparently died at the scene. The fire alarm from Box 236 was a false alarm. Eight minutes later, another false alarm was transmitted from the same alarm box. The following day, a corner’s jury ruled that the collision was “unavoidable” and the driver of the apparatus was “in no way responsible” for the victim’s death. Source: Legeros research.

1926, Nov 25 – Charlotte – Engine [?] collided with a “small auto” at the intersection of Trade and Graham streets, just before noon. Prior to the collision, a street car had just passed ahead of the apparatus and the driver of the automobile, Bessie Patterson, 58, did not see the fire. She suffered head injuries and died the following day. The fire engine subsequently struck a concrete building. “Several firemen” aboard were “less seriously hurt.” Source: Charlotte Observer, News & Observer, November 26, 1926.

Charlotte – November 25, 1926 – Charlotte Observer photo

1923, Nov 7 – Raleigh – Engine 1 collided with spectators on West Martin Street at 2:45 p.m., while operating at a fire at Southern School Supply on South West Street and just “opposite of Union Station.” Hundreds of people were watching the fire. The engine struck a group of people standing on a sidewalk. A dozen people were “knocked down,” with adult Walter Reid seriously injured and ten-year-old Carl Willard killed nearly instantly. A warehouse and small garage were burning, with three lines of hose were in operation.

The fire was nearly under control when the fire chief ordered the operator of Engine 1 to lay another line across the railroad tracks. The apparatus was travelling at a reported 25 MPH when it “ran wild as it turned off West into Martin street” and struck the spectators. Reid was struck by a ladder “protruding from the truck” and suffered crushed ribs and a possible punctured lung. He was transported and treated at St. Agnes hospital. The boy was caught under the front wheels and crushed.

The apparatus driver was taken into protective custody by the police and charged with manslaughter. The charges were later apparently dropped. Source: Legeros research. 


Facebook Comments

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *