Local News

Accident Ties Up Interstate Traffic More Than 20 Hours

Posted May 20, 2003

— A tractor-trailer truck carrying a load of hazardous chemicals collided with a conversion van on Interstate 95 early Friday, shutting down the highway in both directions south of Rocky Mount.

The road was shut down for more than 20 hours. Traffic in both directions was rerouted to nearby state roads, said Highway Patrol spokesman Sgt. Everett Clendenin. The southbound lanes reopened about 9:30 p.m., and the northbound lanes were expected to reopen before midnight.

The Highway Patrol said the tractor-trailer, which was carrying a shipment of

ethylene oxide

, hit a conversion van in a northbound lane at Sunset Avenue. Both vehicles ran off the road and burst into flames.

The accident occurred around 1 a.m in dense fog where the interstate crosses U.S. 64 -- about 40 miles south of the Virginia border.

Friday afternoon, a state Hazmat team started the cleanup process.

Additional troopers were dispatched from other counties to help, said Clendenin.

Clendenin said truck driver Ronald Clayton Martin, of Nichols, N.Y., was charged with failure to reduce speed and careless and reckless driving.

Martin, who works for LA Trucking, Inc. of Tunkhannock, Pa., was enroute to chemical plant in Richmond, Va.

"The preliminary investigation reveals that he did fall asleep while he was driving," Clendenin said.

The van's driver, Robert Emmett Murphy, of Alexandria, Va., had a minor shoulder injury.

The truck was carrying 41 tanks of ethylene oxide which exploded on impact. The colorless, compressed gas is flammable at temperatures above 51.3 degrees.

The compound is used in production of solvents, antifreeze, textiles, detergents, adhesives, polyurethane foam and pharmaceuticals. The chemical is a carcinogen and can cause eye pain and sore throat, difficulty breathing, blurred vision, dizziness, skin blister and vomiting.

The trucking company is reponsible for the cleanup. Because the situation is not considered life-threatening, a hazardous materials crew from Charleston, S.C. that contracts with the trucking company was dispatched to clear the chemical from the roadway. They are not expected to arrive before 5 p.m.

About 135 residents of the Brook Valley Mobile Home Park were evacuated as a precaution due to hazardous fumes. Residents have been asked to remain away until the scene is clear. A shelter is open at Winstead Elementary School.

The Highway Patrol reported three other collisions in the area of the 138 mile marker as a result of the traffic slowing for the collision.

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