Salt truck dangles from edge of building after driver loses control and crashes through wall

Sam Levin, Lisa Colangelo and Bob Kappstatter, DAILY NEWS WRITERS

A Sanitation Department mechanic dangled between the third floor and eternity Wednesday after crashing a 16-ton salt spreader through the wall of a Queens garage.

The driver, Robert Legall, mistakenly stepped on the gas instead of the brake pedal and lost control of the rig inside the sprawling Woodside repair facility shortly after 9 a.m., sending it through the wall and showering bricks and debris below.

With three-quarters of the bright orange spreader hanging downward at a 45-degree angle, Legall was rescued by firefighters using a tower ladder.

"I looked up and I saw a truck coming out of the window," said John Satar, a food vendor. "[The driver] was sitting in his seat. The other workers were saying, 'Hang in there. Help is on the way.'"

Alex Aponte was getting coffee at Satar's food cart when he heard "a big bang."

"I turned around and there was this truck hanging out of the building and debris falling everywhere. I said, 'This can't be real. It has to be a movie,'" Aponte said.

Legall, 56, has 10 years on the job and a clean record. He was treated at Elmhurst Hospital Center for neck and back pain.

Sanitation Department spokesman Matthew Lippani said Legall was later given a "performance evaluation," including a Breathalyzer and urine test. The results all came back clean.

"He cried all the way home," said Legall's cousin Derick Williams, 46.

After Legall's rescue, tow trucks at the 58th St. garage hauled the spreader back with heavy-duty chains.

Firefighters set up a collapse zone below and stood by with three hose lines in case it fell and caught fire.

A private crane finally lifted the front end of the spreader - which is used on Rikers Island - so it could be pulled inside.

"What happened? We're really not sure," said Deputy Commissioner Rocco DiRico.

"It's a horrible situation. I've been here for 32 years. I've been deputy commissioner for 10, and I've never seen anything like this in my life. No one, thank God, was down below."

Meanwhile, in Astoria, Queens, another city vehicle had a rough ride yesterday.

Firefighters had to hoist a Parks Department garbage truck out of an 8-foot-wide sinkhole after its rear left tires got stuck. No one was injured.

The truck was on a concrete path along the East River when the driver stopped to pick up garbage. The ground simply gave way beneath the wheels.

"The concrete - it was like it melted," Jonathan Hidalgo, 17, said. "I was damn scared. I thought this whole thing was gonna go down."

With Edgar Sandoval and Jennifer H. Cunningham