Crude oil tanker explosion kills truck driver on Interstate 80
Late night crash closes westbound lanes of traffic for hours
A 67-year-old man died last night after the semi-truck he was driving collided with a crude oil tanker on Interstate 80 near Jeremy Ranch, causing the tanker to burst into flames.
Wendell Lewis, of Maricopa, Arizona, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to Sgt. Todd Royce, of the Utah Highway Patrol. The other driver, who has not been identified, did not sustain any injuries.
At around 10:50 p.m., a semitruck traveling in the westbound lanes of Interstate 80 near milepost 140 attempted to pass a tanker that was parked in the far right lane of the highway, Royce said. The tanker was pulling approximately 11,000 gallons of dark crude oil.
“As he was attempting to pass, it either rolled back or slid back into the tanker and when it punctured the main trailer it started to lose its light crude and it caught fire,” Royce said. “The other driver got out of the tanker, but we were looking for deceased driver who was still in the cabin.”
The collision caused the tanker to explode, forcing officials to close all traffic in both directions for several hours.
Fire crews with the Park City Fire District responded to the incident, along with crews from the Unified Police Department. Five engines, two emergency hazmat teams. Three water tankers were on scene, in addition to a Utah Air National Guard foam truck. Fire crews did not get the blaze under control until after midnight.
Ray Huntzinger, a Park City Fire District battalion chief, said 200 gallons of crude oil spilled into the storm drain, requiring the hazmat teams. He said a cleaning company is also on site with the Summit County Health Department.
“Those tankers are highly flammable when they are in a heated state because to transport crude they are kept at about 140 degrees,” Huntzinger said.
Huntzinger said the snowy conditions “won’t make cleanup any easier” because of the effect it has on the crude.
“These accidents don’t happen very often and rarely do we have to pull these specialty resources, this only happens in plane and tanker crashes,” Huntzinger said.
At around 8:45, Lisa Miller, a travel information manager with the Utah Department of Transportation, said the westbound lanes will be partially opened over the next two hours and estimated full clearance shortly after, before quickly adding “that could always change.”
“The semi that was hauling the crude oil has been moved out of traffic to the chain up area where the investigation will continue,” Miller said. “Because of the debris, we cannot see if there was any road damage and what kind of work they would have to do to repair it.
“If there damage it could further delay opening, but so many variables play a role,” she said. As of 9:30a.m. Thursday, I-80 westbound was still closed. Drivers can check UDOT’s Commuterlink site for updates: http://commuterlink.utah.gov/
During the closure, drivers were asked to consider alternate routes to Salt Lake, such as through Provo Canyon or Echo Junction.
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UDOT has released a Kimball Junction Area Plan, putting price tags to proposed traffic fixes.