Cement truck driver dies in Ellenton crash

ELLENTON -- Linda Cortez and Lizet Snyder were heading to a prayer session Thursday morning to talk about life.

But instead, as Cortez described it, "We had death staring us in the face."

As the women waited at the traffic light on U.S. 301 at the Interstate 75 interchange, they spotted a 67,000-pound cement truck overturn and slam into a concrete pole.

The driver was trapped inside for about two hours before firefighters could rescue him from the heap of mangled metal. By the time they pulled him out, the man was dead.

The driver was Jerry Wayne Hart, of Sarasota. He was 52.

"He was pinned in there for so long," said Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. William Pascoe.

At 9:12 a.m., Hart was heading east on U.S. 301. A black Miata was stopped at a red light near the interchange.

To avoid colliding into the Miata, Hart swerved to the right and lost control of the cement truck. The truck rotated and overturned, crushing a palm tree, fence, and a concrete power pole.

Snyder saw the truck flip upside down. She frantically shook Cortez's shoulder. "Linda, stop!" she yelled.

Cortez parked near the truck. Snyder had hope she could rescue Hart.

She circled the truck to find him, but Hart was lost inside the wrecked cabin.

"It was like a movie," Snyder said, crying. "All I wanted to do was to help ... it was impossible."

Cortez called 911. "Poor man," she said as she watched firefighters use the Jaws of Life to free the man.

At about 11 a.m., firefighters pulled Hart out of the wreckage. He was pronounced dead.

"There was too much weight, and the truck was too badly damaged," Pascoe said, explaining why

it took hours to remove the man's body.

The cement truck belonged to Cemex, a building materials company.

The Miata received minor damage to the right rear, Pascoe said. The driver was slightly injured, but was not hospitalized.

The truck also damaged the power connection and the control box for the traffic lights in the intersection. Deputies directed traffic Thursday after the collision.

Manatee County Public Works deputy director Chad Butzow said the lights began working again at about 7 p.m.

As authorities flipped the truck and secured it onto a tow truck, spectators gathered in front of the Golf Car Outlet, right across from the scene.

Gregg Miller, the outlet's president, said he and two employees were inside when the building shook.

"I thought there was an earthquake," Miller said. Once outside, Miller saw the truck collapse on the ground. He peered inside the cabin and could only make out Hart's shoulder.

"It was awful," he said.