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Cabdriver, 54, dies in fiery crash on Zakim Bridge

The crash took place around 5:38 a.m. today.

Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe

The crash took place around 5:38 a.m. today.

MALDEN — A taxidriver on Monday afternoon remembered a colleague who was killed in an accident hours earlier in her cab on the Leonard P. Zakim Bunker Hill Memorial Bridge as a devoted mother with a generous spirit.

“Just a very loving girl,” said Joe Hyde, 42, outside the office of Malden Taxi on Eastern Avenue, where both worked. “You know, she’d do anything for anybody. . . . It’s just a terrible tragedy. I’m lost for words on it.”

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Hyde was speaking about Debra Sarno, 54, who he said had been his roommate in Malden for the past two years. Sarno’s family could not be reached for comment.

According to State Police, Sarno’s 2006 Ford Crown Victoria, which she drove for Malden Taxi, was stopped on the northbound side of the bridge about 5:30 a.m. when the car was struck from behind by a tractor-trailer and burst into flames.

She was the sole occupant of the cab.

“For reasons that remain under investigation, the taxi stopped in the right travel lane before it was struck from the rear by the tractor-trailer,’’ State Police said in a statement.

David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, wrote in a follow-up e-mail that troopers were “investigating whether the taxi became disabled or had a mechanical problem.”

Troopers identified the driver of the tractor-trailer as Joseph Maldonado, 47, of Manchester, Conn., who was carrying produce for Hartford-based M&M Produce.

He was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital for treatment of minor injuries, authorities said.

Neither Maldonado nor his employer could be reached for comment.

No charges had been filed as of Monday evening and officials released no additional information about the crash.

Hyde said Sarno leaves three adult sons. He described her as “a high-spirited woman” and a “very loving mother.”

“It’s just a very sad day,” he said.

A dispatcher at Malden Taxi said no one else would comment on the crash.

Dave Evans, 75, was a neighbor of Sarno’s father, Ralph — who died about a year ago — in Chelsea.

He said Debra Sarno had been living with her father until she moved out about a year and a half ago. He said he occasionally spoke to her in passing.

“She came and went,” Evans said. “She took care of her father when he was here, I know that.”

He said he was shocked to learn that she had been killed.

Boston firefighters were on the bridge until after 7 a.m. working to extinguish the flames.

Jake Wark, a spokesman for Suffolk District Attorney Daniel F. Conley’s office, which is investigating the crash, wrote in an e-mail early Monday afternoon that “ uniformed troopers are gathering footage from public safety cameras in the area, and detectives are conducting interviews; these efforts will continue through the days to come.”

On Monday night, he wrote in another e-mail that “given the condition of both vehicles when first responders arrived at the scene, it will likely take time for investigators to determine the facts and circumstances of the collision.”

Any drivers who were on the bridge around the time of the crash are asked to call State Police investigators at 617-727-8817.

Globe correspondent Jacqueline Tempera contributed to this report. Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.
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