It was already going to be a sad day. Robert Blalock, a 62-year-old retired Army veteran from Hope Mills, N.C., was on Interstate 95 on Feb. 1, en route to his father’s 3 p.m. funeral in Altamonte Springs. Then, Blalock’s Nissan van started sputtering.
“We were going 70 mph, and it got down to 40,” said Blalock, who was traveling with his son, William Blalock, an Elon College law student. Robert Blalock’s daughter, Deana Sanchez, was following in another vehicle and saw it unfold.
“At first there was a little black smoke, and a little turned into a lot,” said Sanchez, who is pregnant.
When the car was stopped, everyone unloaded the vehicle quickly, throwing their possessions into the grassy slope as the car became engulfed in flames. William Blalock said a $200 law textbook was missing and like burned up.
I-95 was blocked for 15-20 minutes while the van was moved to the shoulder. One lane was closed for 45 minutes or so before the towing company arrived, causing stop-and-go traffic southbound for at least four miles.
An officer gold Robert Blalock that perhaps the fuel injector leaked, causing a fire in the catalytic converter and igniting the van quickly. As firefighters sprayed the frame, there was little left other than metal in the car. Springs and copper wires were exposed, and the front tires — purchased just before the road trip — were completely gone.
The license plate was also missing. Robert Blalock said his car insurance had lapsed without any notification from the insurance company, and so he had a temporary one made out of paper, which burned in the fire.
“I ought to tell them they can have the vehicle,” he said, as he leaned on a cane on the grassy slope. “They were threatening me with a 30-day suspension for letting the insurance lapse.”
Unfortunately for Robert Blalock, even though he does have insurance now, his $4,500 vehicle won’t be covered, anyway. He had been reduced his coverage to liability-only to save money. The vehicle, he said, was one of his last valuable possessions, after he had sold his boat, riding lawnmower and truck.
“I haven’t lost the house, though,” he said. “Everyone else on my street lost their house.”
He said he still hoped to make it to the graveside service. “We’re putting momma in the grave at the same time. We’ve had her on the shelf since July 2002.”