Hundreds of Freeland residents were without power for nearly 11 hours Sunday after a large truck sheared a telephone pole in two and then burst into flames.
The driver of the vehicle, identified by police as Coupeville resident Robert Blouin, was not injured in the accident though first responders marveled that he escaped unharmed. Live wires were draped across his vehicle and the man reportedly scrambled out a window to safety, all without a scratch.
“I don’t know how he did it,” said Deputy Brent Durley, with the Island County Sheriff’s Office. “He must have timed it just right.”
The incident occurred at 4:16 p.m. at the intersection of South Woodard Avenue and Channel View Lane. Blouin, 33, was helping out some family friends and had just turned left onto Woodard in his 1997 four-door Ford F-350 when he heard something fall in the back of the truck, Durley said. Blouin looked behind him to see what fell and that’s when the vehicle veered off the road and “center-punched the pole,” the deputy said.
The crash was heard by many nearby residents, including Ken Gillette, a Nichols Brothers Boat Builders worker.
“Lights went out, I heard the crash and I went, ‘Uh oh,'” Gillette said. “I went outside and called 9-1-1.”
Two South Whidbey Fire/EMS officials who live in the area also heard the collision.
“I was standing in my backyard and heard a loud bang… I looked up and saw the lines dancing,” said Mike Cotton, deputy chief of South Whidbey Fire/EMS.
Dressed in shorts, a t-shirt and slippers, the clearly off-duty Cotton nevertheless jumped into action and helped with traffic control using a small hand-held radio while firefighters worked to extinguish the burning truck and nearby foliage; the downed lines had ignited small fires in grass on the road shoulder up to 50 yards away.
South Whidbey Fire/EMS Assistant Chief Paul Busch said crews hit the burning vehicle with enough water to keep things under control but were reluctant to use too much for safety reasons.
“We weren’t 100 percent sure the power was off completely,” Busch said. “Once they (a Puget Sound Energy worker) showed up and said it was safe, it was a matter of five minutes and it was out.”
The truck was towed away in short order, but the accident left 723 homes without power for hours, according to a Puget Sound Energy official.
“There was significant damage to our infrastructure, and PSE crews needed to replace the power pole,” wrote Akiko Oda, a utility spokeswoman in an email to The Record.
Service was resorted to the last customers at 3:05 a.m. Monday, she wrote.
According to Durley, drugs or alcohol were not a factor in the accident, nor was speed. He estimated Blouin was traveling less than 25 mph at the time of the collision and that the truck’s large size was likely why it was able to cut the pole in two.