CT Officer Recalls Fatal Crash Scene

The Charger Bulletin

By William Kaempffer – New Haven Register

New Haven police Officer Curtis Miller was on his way to a church meeting in his hometown of Stonington when he saw ominous, thick black smoke ahead.

He skipped his exit and drove right into the fiery scene on Interstate 95.

“All I could see were flames everywhere. Diesel fuel was on fire all over the road. You could feel the intense heat inside my truck,” Miller said this week.

He saw hundreds of feet of wire guardrail plowed down by the semi, which ruptured its fuel tanks and ignited the diesel. State Police say the rig erupted into flames before plowing into a bridge abutment and careening onto Taugwonk Road in a massive fireball.

Miller came upon the scene about a minute later and pulled over. “I ran down the embankment to where the fire was to see if there were any other vehicles involved on that secondary road. But my main concern was to see if I could render aid to the driver of that tractor-trailer,” he said.

He inched toward the cab, but the boiling heat and explosions kept him back. He inched closer.

“I was trying to get a visual to see if I could see anybody. These flames were shooting 60 feet into the air. People were telling me they could see it from the New London Bridge. I could actually feel my clothes starting to melt,” he said.

“I knew the guy had to be dead. There was nothing else I could do down there.”

Miller, 25, a two-year member of the New Haven department, was one of the first motorists to come upon the catastrophic tractor-trailer crash Saturday that killed the driver and closed down the highway for hours. The truck was carrying stage equipment for a Carrie Underwood concert at Mohegan Sun. At the show, she dedicated a song to the driver.

Back on the highway, Miller grabbed his reflective police vest out of his personal vehicle. Visibility was near zero because of smoke and people already had stopped to take pictures.

Over the next few minutes, Miller directed traffic and located any witnesses he could. On borrowed paper, he jotted down names and contact information and accounts of what happened, which he later relayed to State Police.

Fire engines started arriving, including companies from Mystic, where he was a volunteer firefighter as a teenager.

According to Miller, he originally wanted to be a New Haven firefighter and attended the University of New Haven, where he got a degree in fire science. In 2007, he applied for the New Haven Fire Department, and when he didn’t get hired he decided to apply as a police officer, with no regrets.

He likes the variety of the job and community interaction, working evening shift patrolling the Dixwell and Newhallville neighborhoods.

“You’re doing aspects of everything. One day you’re locking somebody up and the next day you’re helping them out because they have a medical issue. Every situation is unique. Yeah, I like what I’m doing.”

Police have not released the identity of the driver, who was so badly burned he had to be identified through dental records.

Miller said he wished he could have done more.

“I feel like you almost have a duty to act, on or off duty,” he said. “I would hope that if it was me, somebody would have tried to do the same thing.”