Lan­caster as­sis­tant fire chief killed on duty at wreck site

The Herald (Rock Hill) - - Front Page - BY AN­DREW DYS adys@her­al­don­

The as­sis­tant chief of the Van Wyck fire depart­ment in Lan­caster County was killed Tues­day while di­rect­ing traf­fic around a wreck, po­lice and coro­ner of­fi­cials said.

Den­nis Straight, 59, of Lan­caster died around 8 p.m. Tues­day at Springs Me­mo­rial Hospi- tal, said Lan­caster County Deputy Coro­ner Jen­nifer Collins.

Fire of­fi­cials in Lan­caster County and around South Carolina were shocked and deeply sad­dened by Straight’s death.

“It is with deep re­gret that the an­nounce­ment is made of the death of Char­lotte Road/Van Wyck As­sis­tant Fire Chief Den­nis Straight, who lost his life in the line of duty while work­ing at a mo­tor ve­hi­cle col­li­sion scene,” said Lan­caster County Fire Mar­shal Rus­sell Rogers.

Straight was a vol­un­teer for more than 20 years with the Char­lotte Road/ Van Wyck depart­ment that serves much of the In­dian Land and mid­dle ar­eas of Lan­caster County, be­tween Lan­caster and the North Carolina bor­der.

Fel­low firefighters de­scribed Straight as “a great man” and “ded­i­cated to the peo­ple of Lan­caster County.”

Dar­ren Player, Lan­caster County Emer­gency Man­age­ment direc­tor, who has more than 40 years with the fire ser­vice in Lan­caster County, de­scribed Straight as a “su­per, gen­er­ous man.” Player knew him and worked with for more than two decades.

Straight was known for years as be­ing Santa Claus for chil­dren when the Van Wyck fire truck would de­liver toys and gifts to the com­mu­nity, those close to him said.

Straight was struck around 7 p.m. while work­ing a crash at U.S. 521 and S.C. 5 in Lan­caster County, said S.C. High­way Pa­trol Cpl. Bill Rhyne.

The crash site is about five miles north of Lan­caster, near the town of Van Wyck.

The ve­hi­cle that hit Straight was driven by a 33-year-old man from Ker­shaw, Rhyne said. That driver was not in­jured, po­lice said.

The ve­hi­cle was turn­ing onto S.C. 5 from U.S 521 when Straight was hit, Rhyne said.

Straight was di­rect­ing traf­fic

on the on-ramp from north­bound U.S. 521 when he was hit, Collins said.

The in­ci­dent re­mains un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the high­way pa­trol Ma­jor Ac­ci­dent In­ves­ti­ga­tion Team.

The ear­lier crash hap­pened around 6:15 p.m. Straight went to the scene to help with traf­fic flow, Rogers said.

Straight leaves a wife and other fam­ily, Rogers said.

Lan­caster County emer­gency of­fi­cials have not set a me­mo­rial ser­vice date and time for Straight.

“Please keep Chief Straight’s wife, emer­gency re­spon­ders and his fam­ily in your thoughts and prayers,” Rogers said.

Other de­part­ments in Lan­caster County are avail­able to help with calls in the Van Wyck area as the depart­ment faces the loss of Straight.

Firefighters in York and Ch­ester coun­ties, who worked with Straight, said he was a “ter­rific guy” known for his pro­fes­sion­al­ism. Traf­fic wrecks where firefighters are work­ing and han­dling de­tours are es­pe­cially haz­ardous, firefighters said.

“I knew Den­nis and he was a good one,” said Tommy White, chief of the Lesslie Fire Depart­ment in York County, across the Catawba River from the Van Wyck sta­tion. “We all have been out there at calls where our firefighters are try­ing to help and han­dle the call, but wor­ry­ing about the traf­fic at the same time.”

T. Mel­ton, as­sis­tant chief at the Rich­burg Fire Depart­ment in Ch­ester County, said peo­ple may be­lieve that run­ning into burn­ing build­ings is the most dan­ger­ous part of the job, but traf­fic crashes are more dan­ger­ous.

“Ev­ery day, we have peo­ple out at scenes, on the side of the road help­ing peo­ple and di­rect­ing traf­fic, and it can be ex­tremely dan­ger­ous,” Mel­ton said. ‘You can’t pre­dict what will hap­pen in that traf­fic sit­u­a­tion.”

Mel­ton said that the death of Straight “af­fects ev­ery one of us in the fire ser­vice.”

“Ev­ery fire­fighter at ev­ery sta­tion in South Carolina has a bro­ken heart,” Mel­ton said. ‘We will do ev­ery­thing we can for Den­nis Straight’s fam­ily, his depart­ment, and the pub­lic that he served.”

Allen Culp, chief of the Fort Lawn Vol­un­teer Fire Depart­ment in Ch­ester County, said his depart­ment will do what­ever is asked to help han­dle any calls or as­sist Van Wyck firefighters.

Den­nis Straight

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