The district said in a news release that Bryant Gladney died at the scene after the crash involving a tractor-trailer near Route Z. Gladney was going to the scene of an earlier crash when a westbound tractor-trailer hit Gladney’s truck at high speed before hitting a University Hospital ambulance and the vehicle involved in the original crash, according to the release.
The original crash involved a box truck on its side, district Chief Scott Olsen said at a news conference. The report came in as a truck that crossed the centerline and overturned, Assistant Chief Gale Blomenkamp said. The people involved in the first crash were not hurt.
Blomenkamp said Gladney lived near the crash scene, which is why he responded. He was a 25-year member of the fire district.
Missouri State Highway Patrol released the initial crash report after 6 p.m. The report names Kevin Bunson, 64, of Kansas City, Mo. as the driver of the 18-wheeler that killed Gladney.
Gladney directed the district’s emergency medical services, according to the district’s website. He was also a member of the Task Force 1 urban search and rescue team sent to New York City on 9/11.
Gladney was extricated and pronounced dead at the hospital. I-70 remained closed in the area about four hours after the crash. Traffic was being diverted at the Route J exit. His death was the first line-of-duty death in the district’s history, Blomenkamp said.
Gladney’s truck was blocking the driving lane of the interstate to protect the original crash scene when it was hit, Cpl. Kyle Green with the Missouri State Highway Patrol said. The tractor-trailer could have easily avoided the crash by moving into the passing lane, he said.
“And that is what we encourage people to do is pay attention,” Green said. “When you see the emergency lights on ahead slow down and move into the open lane.”
The driver of the truck that killed Gladney was not in custody Wednesday afternoon, Green said.
Blomenkamp said the truck was traveling at highway speed. The speed limit on that stretch of I-70 is 70 mph.
A witness to the crash who asked not to be identified said he was helping direct traffic when it happened. The speeding semi-truck nearly hit the witness and his vehicle with his family inside before hitting Gladney’s SUV and dragging it down the highway, the witness said.
Members of the Boone County Commission expressed their condolences in a statement Wednesday morning.
“We are deeply saddened by the death of Assistant Chief Bryant Gladney in the line of duty,” the commission said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and colleagues as they grieve his loss. We ask the community to remember Assistant Chief Gladney and his ultimate gift to the community that he served with such great honor.”
Other emergency response agencies posted messages about Gladney’s death on their social media pages.
“Our deepest sympathy goes out to the family of the fallen firefighter, and to the Boone County Fire Protection District in this time of tragedy,” the Columbia Police Department said.
Reactions poured in from other corners, as well, including from Columbia’s city manager and Jonathan Curtright, CEO of MU Health Care, whose ambulance crews work closely with firefighters.
“While there is little comfort that can be gained in this time of deep pain, we are eternally thankful for the courage Assistant Chief Gladney and all emergency responders summon each time they heed the call to rescue others in harm’s way,” Curtright said in a statement. “We stand ready to offer whatever assistance we can during this time of tragedy.”
U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt said in a statement that his “thoughts are with (Gladney’s) family and fellow firefighters.”
Gov. Mike Parson called Gladney a “true community hero.”
The mangled tractor-trailer remained at the crash scene for hours. The truck is registered to Express 2000 Transportation out of Bridgeton, Missouri, according to federal records available online. Company drivers have been in two injury crashes over the past two years prior to Wednesday’s crash, records show.
Boone County Joint Communications reported at about 5 a.m. the westbound lanes of I-70 near Route Z were shut down. The road reopened a little before 11 a.m.
According to the Missouri State Highway Patrol, Troop F was notified at about 4:30 a.m. of a crash involving a box truck at the 135.2-mile marker.
Troopers said at 4:50 a.m. a semi-truck hit the vehicles of emergency crews who responded to the first crash.