February 28, 2014 at 6:01 pm

Daughter of woman killed in semi crash: 'I knew it was my momma'

Police and firefighters work the scene of a semi-tractor rollover on Plymouth Road on Friday in Detroit. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)

Detroit — Cierra Thomas broke into tears as she recounted the frantic calls she placed to her mother on Friday morning that went unanswered.

Moments earlier, she’d learned that a semi truck collided with and crushed a Ford Focus near the family home on Plymouth Road near the Southfield Service Drive.

“I knew it was my momma,” Thomas, 22, said. “I kept trying to call my momma and she wasn’t answering.”

Cierra Thomas said her mother, Tracy Thomas, 43, had caught a ride to work with other relatives, after Cierra’s car failed to start. Also in the car were Cierra’s grandmother, Dorothy Thomas, and her uncle, William Thomas. All were killed when the Ford Focus became pinned underneath the overturned semi.

Officer Enrique Jackson of the Detroit Fatal Police Squad said the crash occurred around 9:40 a.m. but said it was unclear who may have been at fault. The investigation is ongoing.

Jackson, who did not disclose the identity of the victims, said the semi was traveling northbound on the Southfield Service Drive and the car was heading east on Plymouth. Rescuers used several front-loader trucks and two sets of Jaws of Life to free the victims.

Bahaa Saad, owner of Starter's Bar and Grill on Plymouth, came to the crash scene Friday afternoon to mourn Tracy Thomas, whom he called a beloved employee.

Saad said the mother of three had worked as a bartender at his business for 10 years.

“What a terrible loss,” he said. “It's devastating. It's like losing one of my children.”

Back at the bar, wait staff and Saad’s son, Ali, were in shock over the news.

“She was like a sister to me,” said Ali Saad. “She means a lot to us. We want people to know what kind of person she was.”

“She was a good person and she took care of us,” Thomas said of her mother.

Thomas said her grandmother had been a fixture in the community for nearly 40 years and had recently taken in her uncle after he lost his home.

Andy Khalil, owner of the nearby Oil Exchange on Plymouth, was among those who tried to help.

Khalil said he was in his office when he heard “a pop.” A co-worker then called him up from the basement and both ran outside.

“There was nothing we could do. I wish I could have,” said Khalil, who has managed the store for 12 years. “I feel really bad about the people in the car.”

Khalil said his store only has interior video and did not capture the crash.

Kiwaina Triggs, who lives on nearby Archdale Street, came to the scene after a call from a friend and neighbor related to the victims.

“She respected everyone,” Triggs said of the elder Thomas, who was well-known in the neighborhood. “She did everything for the block.”

Triggs said she won’t soon forget the gruesome wreckage.

“Keep us in God’s prayers,” she said. “It’s a loss for everyone. It’s heartbreaking.”

Saad and the family said funeral arrangements and plans for establishing a donation fund in memory of the victims are pending.

The Jaws of Life were used on the Ford Focus next to the overturned semi. (Max Ortiz / The Detroit News)
Tracy Thomas stands in front of Starter's Bar and Grill. (Courtesy of Starter's Bar and Grill staff)