AKRON -- A trucker steered his out-of-control rig past people, cars, and businesses, only to die moments later.
Chris Burgess, 41, of Ravenna, lost the brakes on his 15-ton dump truck on Portage Trail, a steep hill in Akron.
He careened through a busy intersection and headed straight for a shopping center before swerving at the last moment into the Cuyahoga River.
"He definitely sacrificed his safety for the safety of everyong else who was around here," said Karla Maple, who was in the parking lot of the Valley Centre Plaza on Akron-Peninsual Road in the Merriman Valley.
Margaret Paulin, who was working at White Swan Quality Cleaners, was directly in the path of the out-of-control dump truck, which was loaded with 15 tons of sand. She said it seemed to be going 100 miles per hour.
Paulin looked out the front window of the business and saw Burgess make what seemd like an impossible sharp left turn into the river, just before he would have plowed through the shopping center.
"He truly sacrificed himself to keep from hitting anybody," she told WKYC. "Because there were so many cars in this lot at the time he came through here. I can't believe he missed them."
Burgess died in his cab when he hit a huge tree on the riverbank, and his truck and the tree both flew into the river. It took nearly 4 hours to extricate his body from the wreckage.
Burgess's father and Jeff Huber, owner of Huber Trucking of Kent, both stood and watched as the truck was hauled out of the river by a crane and two tow trucks.
Both were grateful to hear that witnesses had called Burgess a hero.
"That's the kind of guy Chris was," Huber said.
Trista Merendino and her children, ages 6 years and 9 months, escaped with their lives only because Merendino happend to turn down her car radio at the very moment Burgess was laying on his truck horn.
"I had the green light and was about to pull into the intersection," she told WKYC. "And then I heard the horn and stopped just in time."
Merendino actually saw Burgess at the wheel and watched him come down the hill, through the intersection of Akron-Peninsula Road, and into the shopping center parking lot.
"As I seen him go through the intersection, he's just going like this," Merendino gestured, waving her arms, and demonstrating how Burgess was trying to control the steering wheel.
"He's trying to control the truck and at the same time being so frantic. He looked so helpless. And you could just tell that even though he was helpless and did not have control, he did not want to harm anybody."
"Usually I have my radio on loud because my 6-year-old likes music," the West Akron woman said. "If I didn't listen to that horn, I could have easily gone through the intersection. Me and my children might not be alive today."