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First responders struggled with emotions during 'horrific' Chester crash

CHESTER COUNTY, S.C. — Richburg firefighter T. Melton tried to hold his emotions in check, talking to Channel 9 about what he witnessed on Interstate 77 Thursday.

He was first on the scene, having spotted the thick black column of smoke from 4 miles away as he was leaving the fire station.

"I thought it was just a minor accident on the interstate," Melton said.

Once he pulled into the median, it looked like a war zone filled with smoke, flames, debris and chaos.

"We had two tractor-trailers on fire. We had woods and grass fires, and we had fire in the median around the vehicles that still had people in them," Melton said.

Crash victims were laying in the roadway.

"We had patients trapped in the cars, and people walking around that were involved in it," Melton said.

He immediately went to whoever he could see needed help.

Moments later, firefighter David McCain pulled in behind Melton. He saw fires burning in three different places, and starting pulling a hose line from his truck.

'You see this on TV, in California and Florida like that, but never in Richburg," McCain said. "It was unbelievable."

People driving by, including military personnel, stopped to help. So did a few Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents, who had turnout gear in their car.

On Friday, troopers explained the cause of the crash.

They said traffic had been moving slowly on I-77 near the 68 mile marker due to construction. A tractor-trailer driven by Norman Kimble, 59, of Pennsylvania, rear-ended a car northbound on I-77, causing a chain reaction crash.

He then crossed the median and struck a log truck that was headed south. Kimble and Chung-tin Chu, 82, died. Chu was a passenger in a minivan involved in the wreck.

In the midst of the six-vehicle crash, Melton saw a child's car seat sitting in the emergency lane of the highway with cars driving around it. He at first thought someone had deliberately set it there. Then he saw the little boy inside it, who was injured.

"He was still in the car seat but you could tell the child was hurt," Melton said, holding back tears.

The impact of the crash was tremendous.

"The seat, the car seat was in, was thrown from the car and then the car seat straps broke and threw the child," Melton said.

Six medical helicopters flew in and took the child, his mother and four others to various hospitals, while two people went to Carolinas Medical Center by ambulance.

Melton had never seen that many medical choppers respond to one incident.

"Never more than three," he said.

More than 60 people came to the scene, including crews from 10 volunteer fire departments.

Several York County fire departments helped, along with emergency management teams and Piedmont Medical Center.

"We couldn't have done it without them," McCain said. "There was so much help. It was really a team thing."

Firefighters and emergency medical technicians tended to patients, some of whom had been severely injured, while troopers diverted traffic and worked to piece together what had happened.

There was so much debris, and so many vehicles involved, that work would take hours.

It was eight hours before I-77 was completely reopened.

McCain said he feels for the victims, and the families left behind.

"I just want everybody to keep the people in their prayers that were injured, and also the families of those that are deceased. They need your support," he said.

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