Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

June 20, 2013

UPDATE: Crash ties up Interstate 45 for hours

By Bob Belcher and Janet Jacobs
Corsicana Daily Sun

Corsicana — A crash on Interstate 45 Thursday morning involving a chemical spill had far-reaching effects, including closing down the Interstate and briefly affecting operations in the Baylor Hospital emergency room in Dallas.

For hours Thursday, traffic along the highway was backed up six miles deep, and for at least a couple of hours it was at a complete standstill in both directions until the Texas Department of Transportation worked out a system of diverting the gridlock.

The crash occurred about 11:45 am. near the 238 mile marker on the northbound lane of the interstate just south of Rice, when an 18-wheeler crashed into a highway maintenance work truck. There were no injuries to the work crew, but the driver of the 18 wheeler suffered “capacitating injuries and possible contamination” according to DPS spokesman Brad Fulton.

Jerry William Glenn, 49, of Aledo, remains in critical condition at Baylor in Dallas. He is an employee of the Estes Big Express Line company. Following the wreck, he was pinned inside the cab of the truck and had to be removed by emergency crews before he could be evacuated.

The roadway was smeared with a yellow powdery substance, which turned out to be more than 30,000 pounds of potassium metal alloy, a chemical additive from the road crew’s truck, as well as the strong chemical smell spilling from the 18-wheeler. Uncertain of what they were dealing with, rescue crews took stern precautions.

Traffic on the Interstate was shut down in both directions following the crash while hazardous materials, or Haz-Mat, crews from the Corsicana Fire Department worked to identify the chemicals that spilled on the roadway.

The driver of the 18 wheeler was transported by Corsicana EMS to Baylor Hospital in Dallas for treatment of his injuries. Corsicana Fire Chief Donald McMullan said the truck driver had been exposed to the spilled materials.

When the victim arrived at Baylor, crews had still not determined the nature of the chemical spill, prompting the hospital to put the emergency room on “divert” status, which simply means no new patients, said Susan Hall, a Baylor spokesperson.

“We didn't know if there was chemical exposure, so Dallas Fire Department came to ER to determine Haz-Mat,” Hall said. “We were on ‘divert’ for a short time until it was determined it was not hazardous.”

An air ambulance called to the scene declined to transport the victim because of possible contamination by the then-unknown chemical.

“If we know what it is, and we can decontaminate him there, we can (transport), but if it's unknown, we're not going to,” explained PHI air medic Wayne Davis. “There was no way to decontaminate. If it's something we can wash off, we'll still take them. But in a situation where you can't get it off him because you can't use water, and even in back of that truck it was so strong and stout, that's just one that's not safe to fly.”

McMullan said two Haz-Mat firefighters in full protective gear entered the trailer of the 18-wheeler to identify the leaking chemical, which turned out to be aluminum chlorhydrate, a chemical commonly used in deodorants and also in water purification. It’s non-hazardous.

After fire officials determined the chemical wasn’t dangerous, southbound traffic was resumed, and northbound traffic diverted to the service road as DPS continued its investigation of the crash.

Texas DPS troopers, Navarro County Sheriff's deputies and TxDOT personnel were assisting with traffic control through the area. The Rice Volunteer Fire Department also responded to the scene.

The highway truck was carrying 38,520 pounds of the reflective additive that goes into striping paint and it was in 12 containers. Only two of the containers remained intact following the wreck.

“The majority of it spilled out,” Fulton said.

Estes Big Express Line is hiring a private hazardous materials crew to come in and clean up the site, and decontaminate the soil, Fulton said.

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Bob Belcher may be reached by email at bbelcher@corsicanadailysun.com. Janet Jacobs may be reached by email at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “Soundoff” on this story? Email: soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com