Authorities are looking into whether some sort of medical episode caused the driver of a tractor trailer to crash into a Gwinnett County strip mall Wednesday.
Donald Samples, 66, died after the tractor-trailer truck he was driving crashed into two businesses at 1195 Scenic Hwy. around 10:15 a.m.
Samples was a father, grandfather and Vietnam veteran. According to his daughter, he loved life and lived it to the fullest.
"I kissed him goodbye as I went to work," said Samples' daughter Christina McLeod. "My husband took him to the doctor, then dropped him off to go back to work."
Samples had been at the eye doctor for a checkup following cataract surgery, said his daughter. He was cleared for work and on his way in when police believe he had a medical emergency.
The tractor-trailer made impact just a few doors down from a karate studio that was full of children.
Christy Ellis rushed to pick up her 9-year-old son Titus.
"I think there were a few kids that definitely took it a little harder than he did. I don't think he really realizes that two doors down, it could have been worse," said Ellis.
"We are very thankful no one was hurt," said McLeod. "From what we understand there wasn't even any braking involved. He just accelerated. We are all so thankful nothing happened to anyone else."
Vince Davis runs the karate school. He and his brother rushed to try to help Samples.
"My brother climbed through the wreckage and the truck was just, it was so crammed into the building, he couldn't get him," said Davis.
Police said as Samples passed through the intersection of Essex Drive, he suddenly veered to the left, crossing the median and southbound lanes of Scenic Highway into the parking lot of the strip mall, crashing into a restaurant and hair salon. The two businesses had not yet opened for the day.
No one besides Samples was injured. Alcohol and drugs did not appear to contribute to the accident, police said.
Werner Enterprises, Samples' employer, sent the following statement:
"We received notice of the accident just a few hours ago, and it is still early in the investigation. We are saddened by the loss of life of our driver, and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. We are thankful that no one else was injured in the accident. From the moment the accident happened, we have been fully cooperating with the local authorities in their investigation, and we will continue to do so. Although it is too soon to determine, we suspect that the driver may have experienced a medical condition which rendered him unable to operate the truck."
Samples worked for the company for more than eight years.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Werner employs more than 10,000 truck drivers and has a satisfactory standing. Over the past 24 months, the company has been involved in 928 total crashes - 23 were fatal, 292 had injuries and 613 required a tow. According to its safety report, the company has had no serious violation citations in the past 12 months.
McLeod said her father spent every weekend with his 2-year-old granddaughter. She dreads breaking the news that her grandpa won't be coming home.
"We are not sure what to tell her," McLeod said. "She is going to ask for her grandfather, she always says, 'I want my grandpa.' She is only two, but they are smart at that age. So, we will have to figure out what to say."
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