AKRON, Ohio - The final moments of Chris Burgess' life were a reflection of the way he treated others in his 41 years of living. His closest friends said Burgess was selfless, had a heart of gold and always thought of others before himself.
"The Good Book says we lay down our life for our friends. What a better gift, and yet, he laid his life down for people he didn't even know," said Steve Graham, Burgess' best friend since 1994.
Jeanette Silsby, Burgess' roommate in Ravenna, said she wasn't surprised by his final acts of heroism.
"I'm not surprised by what he did at all. He was a hero. Unfortunately, it cost him his life," Silsby said.
On Thursday, Burgess was behind the wheel of an out-of-control dump truck that may have lost its brakes while traveling down a steep road, Portage Trail Extension, in Akron's Merriman Valley.
As Burgess approached Akron Peninsula Road, witnesses said they saw him flailing his hands and honking his horn.
Unable to stop, he sped through the intersection and into a shopping center at a speed estimated at 50 mph.
He managed to maneuver the heavy truck out of the way of several shoppers, children and other vehicles before he crashed into a tree and plunged into the Cuyahoga River.
The cab was submerged and it took several hours for a crane to lift the dump truck out of the river. The Summit County Medical Examiner said Burgess died from blunt force trauma to the neck.
The fact that no one was else was injured as the runaway truck barreled through a very busy section of Akron continues to amaze rescue personnel, witnesses and those who work in the area.
But friends said Burgess, a former Hudson firefighter, always tried to help others.
Silsby is convinced Burgess was worried about the people around him, even as he dealt with his last emotions of helplessness and fear.
"I understand that there were young some mothers who had kids in their cars, and he did everything that he could to avoid hitting someone else. It could have been a lot worse. There could have been children, whole families, destroyed and he went out of his way to make sure that didn't happen," Silsby said.
Friends said Burgess loved restoring tractors, boating and woodworking.
Graham said he'll remember his closest friend for his big heart. Last Christmas, Burgess was out of work, but he still bought large candy bars and and gift cards for Graham's two children.
"He had the heart the size of Montana. He'd do anything to help anybody out and go out of his way to do it and never expect anything in return," Graham said.
The Ohio State Highway Patrol is expected to inspect the dump truck next week and determine if and why the brakes failed on the vehicle, owned by Huber Trucking in Ravenna.
Graham said he has questions about what happened to the truck, but for now he's focused on Burgess' final courageous acts, and what the world will be missing with his passing.
"Missing the love and compassion that he had for life and people. I just can't say enough about the man. I'm just thankful that he was my friend," Graham said.
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