NORTHFIELD — A Laconia woman who suffered severe burns to her arms and legs after an accident at a Pike Industries asphalt plant said she would have died if not for a stroke of luck.
A representative of the Tilton-Northfield Fire Department reported to The Laconia Daily Sun that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration had inquired about the incident. Pike Industries has not responded to requests for comment.
When contacted by the Daily Sun, Deb Miner said she was driving a truck for GSM Paving, a company she and her husband, Greg Miner, operate, as part of a group of trucks collecting asphalt for a job on the morning of Aug. 7. She said that, shortly after 7 a.m., she was positioning her truck to accept 6,000 pounds of asphalt when the product began flowing out of an overhead chute before she was prepared for it.
The asphalt — sticky and heated to more than 400 degrees fahrenheit — landed on the hood and roof of Miner’s truck. It also landed on her windshield, breaking through and beginning to fill the cab of the truck.
“As I’m driving to where the chute is, the mix starts pouring out,” Miner said. “It hits, breaks the windshield, and starts dumping in on me.”
As soon as she realized what was happening, Miner — who was wearing jeans and work boots — quickly exited the truck, but the asphalt was pouring so fast that she suffered burns along the length of her right forearm and to both of her legs before she could jump clear of the truck. In her haste, she also injured one of her knees.
It could have been much worse for Miner.
“I got out of the truck within seconds. If I had my seatbelt on, I wouldn’t be here,” she said.
Miner had been third in line to fill her truck. While she was waiting, she got out of her vehicle to chat with one of the other drivers, and she didn’t fasten her seatbelt when she got back into the truck. Unbuckling her seatbelt would have cost her a few extra moments, which might have also have cost her life.
“Within seconds of me getting out, the roof caved in — not completely, but enough to hold the door shut,” she said.
After she escaped her truck, a Pike worker helped her to a nearby hose and used the water to cool off the asphalt that was adhered to her body.
“Nobody called 9-1-1,” Miner said. “Once I got into the building, they asked me if I wanted to call an ambulance. I was like, ‘I’m OK, I feel fine.’ Obviously, I was in shock.”
Instead of using an ambulance, Miner rode with her husband to Concord Hospital. While they were on the way there, it became clear to her that she was not, in fact, fine.
“All of a sudden, it starts hitting me. It got extremely painful,” she said.
When she arrived at the emergency department, she required multiple injections of morphine to manage the pain.
Because of the severity of the burns, Miner was taken by ambulance to Massachusetts General Hospital, where the asphalt was removed and her burns were treated. She was discharged from the hospital that night, and is now receiving outpatient care at the Mass General Burn Unit.
Miner still doesn’t know exactly how the accident happened, and said that a week passed before the president of the company called.
It’s painful for her to walk, and she said she can no longer help run the family businesses. In addition to GSM Paving, they also operate ASL Limousine.
Then there are the dreams.
“I understand everyone can make a mistake, but this is the most horrifying experience I’ve had in my 53 years of life. I have nightmares that I can’t get out of my truck,” she said.
Miner isn’t sure yet what her prognosis or recovery process will look like, though she said one thing is certain: “I can tell you, I’ll never drive an asphalt truck again, no way, the fear is just too much.”
She said she is grateful for whatever kept her from buckling her seatbelt before driving to the loading area.
“I truly believe I had a guardian angel looking over me,” she said.