Survivor Of H-1 Crash Describes Moments Of Terror

POSTED: 2:26 pm HST February 18, 2004

Driver Tried Several Times To Escape Burning Truck

HONOLULU -- A survivor of the H-1 Freeway crash last week that left four people dead spoke publicly for the first time Wednesday.

Carl "Sonny" Koonce (pictured, right) was the driver of the Safety Systems Hawaii truck that was hit by two Mitsubishi Eclipses early Friday morning.

Koonce

He described the frightening moments after his vehicle was hit by two cars. Koonce managed to crawl out of the burning wreckage and escape with a broken rib and some head injuries. Koonce said he didn't see the speeding cars coming.

"I just felt the truck lift up, I mean literally lifted up the back of the truck. I hit my head and we came down," Koonce recounted. "the next thing I remember is just flames coming along the side of the cab." Koonce's partner, Mariano Salangdron, was killed in the crash.

"Mel, I think he was out. I called out for him. I didn't even see him. It was dark at that point aside from the flames," Koonce said. "He was just slumped in the seat. I tried opening the passenger door and it wouldn't open and I tried my door. It wouldn't open. And I pretty much panicked when I saw the flames."

Koonce said he had just filled the truck the day before with 50-60 gallons of fuel. He said he saw the flames approach the gas tank right behind his seat before he finally rolled down his window and climbed out of the cab.

"I was crawling toward the front of the truck and by the time I got to Mel's door it was just a fire ball," he said. Koonce escaped with a broken rib and some head injuries.

Along with Salangdron, three Schofield Barracks soldiers also died in the crash. The soldiers have been identified as Jason Bordwell, 22, and Shanta Bridges, 26, and Sgt. John Surwill, 23. Authorities suspect the two cars were racing. Toxicology tests show all of the men in the two cars were drinking. Tests on Bridges show he was over the legal alcohol limit.

H-1 FREEWAY CRASH
H-1 FREEWAY CRASH

A check by KITV 4 News shows that Bordwell and Bridges both had previous speeding citations on their driver's abstract.

Koonce's attorney, Rick Fried, said initial tests on the skid marks left by the cars indicate they were going 100 mph.

Koonce said he and Salangdron were friends who were involved in each other's life, not just co-workers. At the time of the crash they were talking about where they were going to take their wives for Valentine's Day. "I don't know why I'm alive and Mel is gone. We will all miss him very much," Koonce said.