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Tractor-trailer hauling more than 2,000 young pigs overturns


Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON, W.Va.  Firefighters, state troopers, deputies, and highway workers became emergency animal wranglers Thursday afternoon when a trailer-trailer hauling approximately 2,300 pigs overturned on Interstate 77.

Firefighter, state troopers, deputies and highway workers became emergency animal wranglers Thursday when a tractor-trailer hauling more than 2,000 piglets overturned on I-77.
(Photo by Jessica Nuzzo)

The crash in the northbound lanes was reported 1:36 p.m. near mile marker 5.5, not far from the Ingleside Exit. Corporal J.M. Ellison with the West Virginia State Police Princeton Detachment said the tractor-trailer loaded with pigs was traveling north in the left lane. The driver, who was not injured, told Ellison that another big rig had run him off the road.

“He hit the gravel and got sucked into the median and got into the wire,” Ellison said. The tractor-trailer, which had an Indiania license plate, came to rest against the steel cable barrier in the median and the trailer toppled onto its side.

Squealing pigs could be heard inside the trailer as first responders worked to get them out. Members of the East River Volunteer Fire Department climbed on top of the trailer and sprayed water into it, keeping the pigs cool. Dead pigs could be seen hanging out of the side. Two managed to get out, but they were promptly caught. It was not known if any of the pigs managed to escape into the mountains, but the trailer did not break open and many of the animals were still trapped inside.

Ellison said that the truck was hauling 2,300 pigs weighing 12 to 20 pounds apiece. He estimated that more than1,000 of them had died as a result of the crash and their injuries. Some pigs had to be euthanized at the scene.

Soon personnel with the Mercer County Animal Shelter, state troopers, state DOH workers, deputies with the Mercer County Sheriff’s Department and volunteers had formed lines passing squealing and frightened pigs from person to person. At times the pigs’ ear-piercing screams were deafening. People started arriving with livestock trailers and cages to collect the animals. Detective K.L. Adams with the Bluefield Police Department, who joined in picking up the animals, said people he knew had asked him to get some pigs for them. Residents with farms and other places for livestock were collecting pigs as well.

“It’s the right thing to do so they don’t die,” Adams said.

There was a similar crash last year at Interstate 77’s mile marker 60, Ellison recalled. In that case, trailers and a holding area were available for the hogs, but that was not the case Thursday afternoon. There was no place in Mercer County to take that many pigs at once. The pigs had to be removed so they wouldn’t become a traffic hazard, he said.

Traffic was moving in single lanes both north and south as the recovery operation continued, but cars and trucks were backed up for miles.

Gradually, the squealing and scrambling heard inside the overturned trailer started to quiet down as the live cargo was hauled away. For many of the law enforcement personnel and highway workers on the scene, animal wrangling wasn’t part of their usual job description.

“No, this is outside normal maintenance,” Arlie Matney, a supervisor with the WVDOH, said as the pace slowed down. “I saw one vehicle with a new dealer’s tag put six (pigs) in the back seat.”

“I tell you, the lifesavers were the fire department,” Matney added as one firefighter kept spraying water on the pigs. “They actually got on top of the trailer and kept them cool. They probably saved three quarters of the live ones by getting on top and wetting them on down.”

“I’ll never eat pork again,” DOH worker Daniel Thompson declared. “Never.”

Thursday’s crash was close to the same place where in November 2016, a tractor-trailer hauling cows overturned. Another big rig was brought in to haul away the surviving livestock.

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