A distracted driver who failed to see the flashing lights of four emergency vehicles on Interstate 55 sideswiped a fire engine Wednesday night.
Deputy Fire Chief Jon Stratton called it a "miracle" that the driver did not end up injuring any firefighters, ambulance personnel or other people at the scene, just north of U.S. 30.
"It could have been a complete disaster," Stratton said. "We were extremely lucky."
The emergency workers were handling a single-car accident in which a vehicle left the road, went into a ditch and ended up on its side next to a tree, he said. The people in the vehicle were being examined for injuries at the time of the second crash, and the parents of the driver were also at the scene, he said.
The ambulance was parked in front of the fire engine, and two Illinois State Police cars were parked behind it, Stratton said. Orange cones were set up behind the police cars, he said.
The driver of the second car knocked over the cones but avoided hitting the two police cars before sideswiping the fire engine and coming to a stop, Stratton said. That he did not strike the ambulance, push the fire engine into the ambulance or hit any of the people on the scene was just luck, he said.
Stratton said the driver did realize his mistake but it was too late to do anything other than to slam on the brakes, leaving a long skid mark before striking the fire engine. The damage to the engine was "extensive" and the driver's vehicle was badly damaged, he said.
A spokesman for Illinois State Police District 5 said the driver of the second car, whose name was not available Wednesday night, offered no explanation other than he was "distracted."
He was ticketed under Scott's Law, which increases the penalties for drivers who fail to yield to emergency vehicles or cause accidents at roadside emergency scenes. Under that law, he could be fined up to $10,000 and could potentially have his license suspended.