When Peter Coyne felt his 79,000-pound tractor-trailer starting to flip over Saturday morning on a Thruway ramp at the West Seneca-Cheektowaga border, he closed his eyes and said a quick prayer.
The next thing the Canadian truck driver knew, he was outside the rig, tumbling along the ramp from the Mainline Thruway to the Thruway's Niagara Section at Exit 53. Stunned, he caught a glimpse of his truck, loaded with steel coils, go over the guardrail and slide down the embankment.
"I felt the trailer starting to flip over behind me, and when I felt the tractor going, I kind of hunched down in the cab and said, 'God take care of me,' " Coyne said, recalling the harrowing experience.
He was able to walk away with some bumps, bruises and a cut to his left hand.
Coyne, 48, of Caledon, Ont., told investigating State Trooper Leonard Kasniak that he had changed lanes to avoid another vehicle at about 10:30 a.m., causing the load to shift on the trailer bed.
The truck tipped over and went over the embankment, coming to rest more than halfway down the hill.
When Kasniak first arrived at the scene, he said he expected the worst after seeing how badly the rig had been damaged.
"It looked like a fatality, but the driver was just walking around with a blanket around him. He was a little out of it," Kasniak said.
Coyne was charged with one count of an unsafe lane change, and an investigation is continuing. No other vehicles, troopers said, were involved in the crash, which ended up closing the right lane of the exit ramp for several hours.
At Erie County Medical Center, Coyne received 12 stitches to his left hand and was released within two hours, according to Kasniak.
"He told me at the hospital that he felt lucky to be alive. He said, 'Someone was watching over me.' "