BENTON — A tractor-trailer carrying 30,000 pounds of live lobsters from Nova Scotia overturned early Wednesday morning on Interstate 95 southbound during whiteout conditions, according to the driver and state police.
The driver, Horst Puff, 55, of Greenfield, Nova Scotia, and his dog, Banjo, 10, were not injured in the crash, which occurred around midnight Tuesday as Puff tried to avoid striking a vehicle that had spun out in front of him, both he and state police Trooper Joseph Chretien said at the scene later Wednesday.
“I’m OK,” Puff said, as he stood on I-95, his back against the wind. “There were dry roads from Bangor down to here. Everything was OK.”
He said then there was blowing snow, whiteout conditions and a car in front of him. “The car hit the brakes. I hit the brakes,” he said. “I saw nothing and came too far left and tipped over and Banjo went on top of me. He was on my chest.”
The car that was in front of the truck never stopped, and the driver’s identity is not known, police said.
The truck came to rest in the median about two miles north of exit 133 and near the Fairfield town line. There it stayed all day Wednesday, before it was finally removed around 7 p.m. The truck had to be righted with a crane, and the difficulty as well as the strong wind that blew all day delayed the move. Both southbound lanes were briefly closed for the removal.
Puff was driving the 2007 International truck owned by Gerhardt Trucking of Nova Scotia, taking the lobsters to wholesalers in Brooklyn, N.Y., and Rhode Island.
The lobsters, in 300 crates that weighed about 100 pounds each, survived the wreck and were being taken out of state following inspection by a state agriculture official, Chretien said.
At 11:15 a.m., before the lobsters were removed from the trailer, Chretien sat in the closed lane of I-95 as 42 mph winds whipped across the area known as Benton Flats, blowing snow into the road. Employees of Boulet’s Truck Service worked to clear snow from around the overturned truck.
The southbound passing lane was closed to traffic as police awaited a flatbed truck that would carry the 300 crates of lobsters to Boulet’s on U.S. Route 201 in Fairfield, Chretien said.
“The gusts are incredible right now,” Chretien said after calling Waterville’s LaFleur Municipal Airport to ascertain the wind speed.
Chretien said he got a call about the crash at 12:05 a.m. and arrived around 12:15 a.m.
He and Puff also had trouble getting Banjo out of the truck’s cab.
“We were not able to get him through the door so we had to knock the windshield out,” Chretien said. “It’s a nice dog — a very nice dog. He is fine.” Puff said he got Banjo, a husky-Australian shepherd mix, from the humane society.
Chretien took Puff and Banjo to the Comfort Inn in Waterville, where they spent the rest of the night. He brought Puff back to the crash scene later Wednesday morning.
Chretien said traffic was moving fairly smoothly later in the day, but motorists were stopping on I-95 to take pictures, causing a dangerous situation.
“That’s what my main concern right now is,” he said during the afternoon.
The southbound passing lane of I-95 was closed for most the day, according to Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
At mid-afternoon, McCausland reported Chretien deemed the cab and trailer were likely damaged beyond repair. No charges are expected to be filed against Puff, according to McCausland.
Officials with the state Department of Transportation arrived after the crash and helped close the lane off to traffic and placed a large truck in the lane to protect the area.
“The DOT has just been fabulous,” Chretien said.
Meanwhile, Banjo was being cared for Wednesday at the Boulet office in Fairfield, where Chris Michaud, who runs the parts department, was feeding him and taking him outside for walks.
“He’s my surrogate son for the day,” Michaud said.
The friendly brown and black dog with one brown eye and one blue eye was tied to Michaud’s desk leg with an orange rope, but had plenty of room to move around. As employees walked to and from the shop through Michaud’s office, they patted the dog.
“When they start a truck in the shop, he whimpers,” Michaud said. “He thinks that his daddy is starting his truck.”
Brian and Paul Boulet, owners of the business, said they have taken dogs in before that have been in accidents.
Brian Boulet said Gerhardt’s, which owns the Nova Scotia truck, brought another trailer to load the lobsters into from Boulet’s.
Gerhardt Trucking officials couldn’t be reached by phone Wednesday.
Before the lobsters were taken to safety, they were worried about them freezing, Brian Boulet said. “They have to be between 35 and 40 degrees to live. That’s what we were told by Gerhardt’s.”
Amy Calder — 861-9247