The driver of a gasoline tanker truck has died after his tanker crashed into a median in Saugus on Route 1 and exploded. Neal Michaud, 59, from Manchester, N.H., lost control of the vehicle at approximately 2:15 a.m. on Sunday morning. David Procopio, a State Police spokesman, reported that the truck hit the median before rolling over the barrier and into the opposite lane of traffic. Six cars collided into the gasoline truck and an explosion ignited from the leaking oil. It is approximated that the truck was holding up to 11,000 gallons of fuel.
Michaud could not escape from the cab of the truck and he died at the scene of the accident. He was driving the truck for PJ Murphy Transportation of Methuen. The truck was burned to its frame. Several vehicles were also severely damaged and many had their tires burned completely off of their wheels. Three motorists sustained minor injuries and were treated at local hospitals. Procopio confirmed that one motorist, Kevin Fitzgerald, 60, a resident of South Hamilton, sustained severe burns and had emergency surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital.
Approximately 45 minutes after the truck crashed, a second explosion ignited in a nearby creek due to the spilt gasoline leaking into storm-drains. Fire Chief James L. Blanchard said that this fire sent burning embers into a neighborhood, catching fire to a house, two greenhouse buildings, fences, and numerous areas of brush. Blanchard said, “Lights were shaking from the ceilings of homes, and people woke up to see flames in the back of their house.”
Saugus resident Michael Shaw, 41, woke up to the sounds of explosions: “They sounded like transformers popping off. That’s what I thought it was first, but then three more came…I looked out the window again and I saw a ball of flame rising.” His wife, Nicole, 36, said, “There were explosions going down and the embers were flying on top of our house…I grabbed my kids and the dogs and put them in the car.”
The residential neighborhood was evacuated and 120 residents had to find shelter in the early morning until they were allowed to return home later that day. The Saugus Fire Department reported an eight-alarm response and fire crews from Boston, Revere, Chelsea, Woburn, Somerville, Belmont, Cambridge, Lynn, Lynnfield, Burlington, Danvers, Stoneham, Malden, Winchester, Medford, Wakefield, Everett, and Winthrop responded. Special units from Massport Fire Rescue helped to contain the gasoline fire with chemical foam equipment that is used for putting out airplane fires. Fire Chief Blanchard said, “We had to get foam in there, and we needed lots of it…Without foam, there’s no hope of controlling the fire.”
Officials confirmed that most of the gas had burned off in the fires and that drinking water was not affected. Edmund Coletta, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection said “It appears that the gasoline was consumed by the fire…Even though it was released into the environment, it appears to have been consumed at this point.”
State Representative Donald Wong, who toured the scene of the accident and subsequent fire, said, “We’re fortunate that it happened when it happened…If it happened on a weekday when Route 1 is filled with traffic it would have been much worse.”
State Police are investigating the accident and the cause of the crash. Procopio said the company has a sound safety record and that “Our commercial vehicle team has had interactions with the company in a positive manner. They have a very good safety record.”
If you have been involved in a Massachusetts car accident, it is in your best interest to contact an experienced Massachusetts car accident lawyer.
Gas tanker crash creates Route 1 inferno, The Boston Globe, July 24, 2011
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