FHP: Firefighter killed in fiery crash had high blood-alcohol level

Chris Swary died after his SUV struck JEA truck stopped on expressway

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The firefighter who died after hitting a JEA truck working on Arlington Expressway on Feb. 2 had a blood alcohol level of .224, nearly three times the legal limit for driving, according to the Florida Highway Patrol report released Thursday morning.

Chris Swary was driving his Chevrolet Tahoe west about 11 p.m. and was approaching Cesery Boulevard at about 34 mph when his SUV crashed into the back of a JEA vacuum truck, FHP said. The crash happened 11 seconds after the vacuum truck stopped in the right, outside lane of the Arlington Expressway to let a passenger out to remove cones, FHP said.

Investigators said the 43-year-old was not wearing a seat belt at the time of the crash.

From the impact, Swary had traumatic injuries to his head, neck, torso and extremities. According to the report, the leading edge of the dump bed on the vacuum truck had gone through and into the driver seat of Swary's SUV and the vehicle burst into flames six seconds after the accident. Swary also had burns over 90 percent of his body.

"The JEA truck was getting ready to perform some utility services on the side of the roadway, had actually activated his emergency equipment -- his beacons, strobe lights -- came to a stop to discharge a passenger so they could move some cones to pull into a protected area," FHP Master Sgt. Dylan Bryan said. 

But troopers said they did learn from nearby surveillance video that the rear arrow board on the back of the vacuum truck was not activated. 

FHP said there were no tire marks in the roadway, showing that Swary had not tried to brake before the crash. 

According to the report, both drivers contributed to the crash. FHP said the driver of the JEA truck was given a non-criminal citation for stopping in an area where stopping, standing or parking is prohibited. 

"Charges were issued to the JEA driver for stopped on a limited access facility, even though he was in the action of his duties," Bryan said. 

FHP said it will not release surveillance video of the crash because it shows the impact causing Swary's death.

"DUI and alcohol influence or drugs is one of the main distractions we have. We do encourage people to reduce the number of distractions they have while driving, and ultimately, that will reduce the number of crashes and severity of each," Bryan said. 

Swary had been with Jacksonville Fire Rescue for 12 years.

News4Jax contacted JFRD, but was told the fire chief was in meetings and would not be available Thursday. 

A JEA spokesperson told News4Jax that they cannot comment on the crash because of the potential for litigation.