IT TOOK just seconds for a quiet Hunter town to look as though it had been pounded by a sustained bout of artillery fire.
Police had been watching the truck for at least an hour. A last-ditch attempt to halt or slow it via road spikes just 3km outside Singleton was a final, failed roll of the dice. And a small town is wearing the loss.
Mercifully, nobody was killed. But one man is fighting for his life and eight people were treated at the scene — five of whom were taken to hospital — after the allegedly stolen truck came barrelling down George St, and was finally slowed to a halt after leaving a trail of carnage.
Leon Claassens was driving to work as the scene unfolded and saw people leap out from underneath a cafe gazebo to escape the behemoth.
“There was no slowing down, I didn’t hear any brakes screeching. There was no trying to stop it,” Mr Claassens said.
“All you could hear was the sound of metal crushing, cars being hit,” witness Tony Pearce said. “One of the cars was thrown into the side alley, shunted along and rammed into a wall. The truck then took out the side of a building. It was total carnage, like a bomb had gone off,” he said.
Royal Hotel chef Jack, who didn’t want to use his surname, said he heard the crash and raced outside to see what had happened.
“There were cars crumpled up, black smoke everywhere, and hearing all the screaming, and seeing people cowering everywhere, it was horrible,” he said.
It all began 115km north when the truck was allegedly stolen by 29-year-old Rod Johnson as the driver paid for fuel at Murrurundi’s BP service station about 7.30am.
By the time it was tearing along the New England Highway through Muswellbrook, it had already swiped two cars and caught the attention of police. Choosing not to actively pursue the truck, they instead deployed road spikes on the outskirts of Singleton in an attempt to bring it to a halt before it hit the town.
It did not seem to even slow, breaking the town’s heart as it destroyed its heritage streetscape.
“The first ambulance arrived at 8.55am to a chaotic scene involving a number of quite distressed people,” NSW Ambulance Inspector Luke Wiseman said.
Singleton High School cleaner Tina Saunders was on her way home from work when she saw Johnson climb out of the burning semi’s window and allegedly try to carjack a new truck, as police raced towards him.
“I yelled that he was in the other truck that had stopped and that’s when the police drew their guns and pinned him to the ground,” she said.
Johnson is understood to be of no fixed address. He was aggressive when arrested and was taken to hospital under police guard for a mental health assessment. Johnson was eventually escorted out of the hospital in restraints about 3pm and was still being questioned by police last night.
Singleton mayor Sue Moore said the town was still in shock at the day’s shocking events.
“Everyone’s absolutely gobsmacked at the devastation ... especially as it happened on the New England Highway, which runs through the middle of our town,” Ms Moore said.
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