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WASHINGTON COUNTY – A semitrailer pulling a tanker filled with hot crude oil – placard 1267 – traveling southbound on Interstate 15 near mile post 20, went off the road down a steep embankment before rolling and twisting, causing massive damage to the semi and tanker and spilling large amounts of oil before coming to a stop in the inside median. The cab of the truck was completely separated from its frame as the tanker came to rest on its side around 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, impacting primarily northbound traffic and requiring emergency responders from multiple agencies.
The substance being transported was identified as being highly flammable, UDOT Roadway Operations Manager Todd Abbott said.
“For whatever reason it left the roadway to the left, it went off into the median and in this particular area, it’s very steep,” Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Jake Hicks said. “The vehicle rolled causing major damage to the semi truck and the tanker – the tankers leaking quite a bit of oil – and the driver sustained some injuries but non life-threatening – he’s on the way to the hospital.”
We think maybe it was a mechanical malfunction, Hicks said, noting that it might have had to do with a drive tire issue, something they will look into as they investigate further.
Responders couldn’t tell if the driver had been seat belted or not because the cab of the truck took so much damage it was virtually destroyed.
“He got out,” Hicks said. “The witnesses said when they first saw the crash he was actually walking from the crash up the side of the hill.”
There were good samaritans who stopped and provided medical assistance and shade and somewhere for the driver to rest until medical arrived.
“He’s alright, I think he will be alright,” UDOT Roadway Operations Manager Todd Abbott also said from the scene, “they’ll take him to the hospital but they will possibly keep him overnight for observation.”
The white 2007 Freightliner is registered to Faustino Sanchez of Pasadena, Calif. The tanker is registered to Trucking Equipment Company of Newport Beach, Calif.
Among those responding were Leeds Fire Department, Washington County Sheriff, Utah Highway Patrol, Utah Department of Transportation and eventually cleanup crews directed by the trucking company.
“UDOT will be helping us get the necessary people out here to clean it because it’s a hazardous material situation,” Hicks said. “This all has to be contained and cleaned up. I think that will take days.”
The trucking company is responsible for cleanup of the spill that, though highly flammable, did not ever burst into flames.
“All the soil the oil has soaked into, they will have to dig it all out, bring in clean topsoil,” Abbott said, “any contamination to the ground they are responsible for and at this point (around 6 p.m.), I know they have made contact with the trucking company. So I would imagine within 2-3 hours we will have an environmental response team up here that is sent up here by the trucking company who will number one remove the remaining product out of the tanker and then start cleaning up all the contaminated soil.”
Abbott said crews will probably work on getting the tanker offloaded and getting the wreckage cleaned out through the night or tomorrow morning.
“We brought equipment out just to secure everything so that, should we lose more, for some strange reason, we can keep it contained and it doesn’t hurt the rest of the environment,” Abbott said.
“Crude oil is very volatile,” Abbott said.
There were no lane closures but there was traffic backup due to motorists rubbernecking, Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Todd Royce said.
The Interstate will remain open but the frontage road that runs parallel to northbound I-15 and beneath it to provide access to Red Cliffs Recreation Area will be closed for an indefinite period of time.
St. George News Editor-in-Chief Joyce Kuzmanic contributed to this report.
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