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Taxi driver killed had pulled over with flat tire

Truck didn’t use brakes, police say

The Malden Taxi driver killed in Monday morning’s fiery crash on the Zakim Bridge had pulled over because of a flat tire when she was struck by a tractor-trailer, State Police said.

Debra Sarno, 54, of Chelsea, had stopped her 2006 Ford Crown Victoria, which she drove for Malden Taxi, into the far right lane on the northbound side of the bridge about 5:30 a.m. when the truck struck her, said David Procopio, a State Police spokesman.

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The taxi then burst into flames, Procopio said. Authorities believe the tractor-trailer was traveling at full speed.

“We are investigating why the driver did not take evasive measures,” Procopio said by telephone Tuesday. “We want to know why the driver did not brake.”

He expects a full investigation to be completed in three to four weeks. “This will reveal what went on in those crucial few seconds,” Procopio said.

Ed Barry, the manager of Malden Taxi, said Sarno had called the company’s dispatcher to alert the company of the flat tire. He said she pulled over as far as she could and turned on her emergency lights. She was stopped for 8 to 10 minutes waiting for a tow truck, Barry said.

“This shouldn’t have happened,” he said. “It bothers me. She was a very nice woman. She did absolutely everything right.”

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The bridge, which carries Interstate 93 traffic across the Charles River in Boston, does not have a breakdown lane, according to State Police. Procopio said it is better if drivers experiencing car trouble continue off the bridge and then pull over, although this isn’t always possible.

“Without knowing the condition of her tire, I can’t say what she should have done,” he said.

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

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

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

Jacqueline Tempera can be reached at jacqueline.tempera-@globe.com. Follow her on twitter @jacktemp.

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