WAVERLY, Tenn. (WTVF) — When a Corecivic van loaded with inmates crashed on I-40 Wednesday morning, it was history repeating itself. The same thing happened along the same stretch of interstate a quarter century ago.
The difference this time is, thankfully, no one died.
"The flames just overtook them so fast it was unbelieveable," said Chris Davis.
Davis was a detective in Dickson County in 1997 and remembers responding to that horrible crash like it was yesterday.
The six inmates were trapped in a locked cage inside the van.
"There were shackles and there was belly chains and they were cuffed together at the wrist in front of them," said Davis.
The van ended up on the shoulder of I-40, burned so thoroughly that the back doors were welded shut. It got so hot so quickly that officers could not get close enough to free the inmates.
"They could not get out and you could not get close enough to the car to even try to open it," Davis said. There was no escape.
A spokesman for the medical examiner at the time said the inmates had no chance.
"It is Dr. Harlan's belief that these individuals lived a short time in the fire. A matter of minutes," said attorney Dan Warlick.
Fast forward 25 years.
In an odd coincidence, another van hauling six inmates crashed along the same stretch of interstate — this time closer to Humphreys County where Chris Davis is now the sheriff — and he again responded.
"The vehicle went up and over a guardrail and down about a 20 yard embankment," Davis said.
But the van did not catch fire. Still, the six inmates were shackled and locked in the back in a very dangerous situation.
"Thank goodness yesterday there was a chaser car," said Davis.
Since that fatal fire a quarter century ago, Davis said authorities always try to have a chaser car following any vehicle transporting shackled inmates in case something does go wrong.
In this instance, the officer in the chaser car reacted quickly.
"She responded down to it, got the doors open and got the inmates out; they were laid out on the ground upon arrival," said Davis.
One correctional officer and an inmate were life-flighted with serious injuries. The others suffered bumps and bruises. But no one died.
Wednesday's crash is still under investigation.
The Highway Patrol did report that the van's rear driver's side tire blew, causing the vehicle to lose control.