October 21, 2014

Elyria
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Crash leaves car ablaze; Lorain man dead

LORAIN — Police suspect a medical problem caused a 70-year-old Lorain man to lose control of his car on the Henderson Bridge, resulting in a fiery collision with a pickup.

The name of the victim, who was pronounced dead at the scene, was being withheld pending notification of his family, Lorain police said.

JASON MILLER/CHRONICLE
Police suspect a medical problem led a 70-year-old Lorain man to crash into a pickup on the Henderson Bridge in Lorain on Friday, leading to a car fire and forcing the bridge to close for hours.

County Coroner Paul Matus said the cause of the man’s death is unknown, but he suspects the man died from some type of medical event that preceded the crash. He is trying to determine if the problem caused the man’s death before the crash and subsequent fire.

The gruesome crash unfolded at 5:23 p.m. Friday when the Lorain man was driving a Honda sedan north on the bridge, said Lorain police Sgt. Chris Pittak.

Witnesses told police the man began to lose control of his vehicle somewhere near the peak of the bridge. Pittak said the man’s vehicle struck the guardrail and traveled north on the bridge’s downward slope, swerving erratically and striking at least a dozen traffic barrels dividing southbound and northbound traffic.

The sedan then crossed the center of the road and struck a full-size GMC pickup head-on. The estimated speed of either vehicle was unknown as of late Friday, Pittak said.

Witnesses said the Lorain man appeared to be slumped over before his vehicle collided with the pickup, Pittak said. 

After the collision, the sedan began making “popping” sounds and smoking, said witnesses at a nearby Denny’s restaurant.

The man’s car caught fire, and a bystander grabbed an extinguisher and tried to snuff the flames, which started somewhere in the engine, Pittak said.

“Someone tried to put it out with a fire extinguisher, but it was just too much,” Pittak said.

Firefighters said the heavy traffic on the bridge — caused by construction currently under way — hampered their efforts to reach the wreckage. By the time they arrived, the vehicle was fully engulfed.  

Firefighters said the driver of the pickup had removed himself from his vehicle before they arrived, and he initially declined medical treatment from emergency crews. Lorain police Lt. Tim McCann said the pickup driver, whose name was not available, did not suffer life-threatening injures.

The collision prompted emergency crews to close the bridge for hours.

Contact Shawn Foucher at 653-6255 or sfoucher@chroniclet.com.