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Highway Reopens After Nitrogen Spill Cleaned Up

Posted December 27, 2006

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— U.S. Highway 421 reopened in Sampson County Wednesday evening, more than seven hours after a tractor-trailer carrying liquid nitrogen overturned.

The accident occurred at about 9:45 a.m. at the intersection of U.S. 421 and Church Road, which is about eight miles northwest of Clinton. A car driven by 87-year-old James Vann ran a stop sign and hit the tractor-trailer, causing the truck driver to lose control of his rig, authorities said.

Vann said he was headed to a wellness center to go swimming and didn't see the truck as he pulled onto U.S. 421, authorities said. Both he and the truck driver were taken to Sampson County Regional Hospital with minor injuries.

The liquid nitrogen wasn't considered hazardous, but some diesel fuel leaked from the overturned tractor-trailer, and authorities feared it could mix with the liquid nitrogen and cause an explosion.

A hazmat team was called to the scene and covered the area with sand to absorb the fuel.

"This situation, when people said nitrogen, it sounded a lot worse than it really was," North Carolina Highway Patrol Trooper Michael Hall said.

Authorities blocked off U.S. 421 for a half-mile in each direction and evacuated at least three nearby homes. No injuries were reported.

"I heard something like a tin can being dropped in the yard," said Valerie Sweatt, who had to leave her nearby home. "I was really scared, you know. With it leaking like it was, I was scared it was going to blow up."

The tractor-trailer is registered to M.R. Yow Trucking in Lillington. Owner Melvin Yow said the rig supplies liquid nitrogen to area farms for use in fertilizer.

"He's doing good," Yow said of his driver, who was heading to Lillington when the wreck occurred. "(He's) ready to go home, but he's doing all right, other than just being shook up."

The wreck marked the second time in a week when a tractor-trailer carrying hazardous material overturned on an area highway.

Last week, a truck loaded with 6,000 tons of low-grade powdered uranium flipped on a ramp from Interstate 95 to Interstate 40 in Johnston County. The wreck forced I-95 to be closed for several hours.

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  • midwaychicksrock Jan 3, 2007

    well i know the man and i just know that he did stop at the stop sign, he is a very careful driver, but with him being 87 the sun was in his eyes, and if you don't think it is bad you try driving from there to Clinton in the morning. it is not safe at all, as for the truck driver, i am thankful that he tried to stop, he saved this man and woman's life,

  • bitseybellrocks Dec 27, 2006

    I would just like to add the fact that many more than just three or four homes were evacuated. There are several homes around that particular point. I live in the area and know of about 15 other families that were evacuated.

  • Bulldog78 Dec 27, 2006

    More often than not, my money's on the truck drivers to know what they're doing. It's the driving public that really scares me these days. Not sure if it's cell phones, SUVs or what the deal is, but lots of people drive like complete idiots these days.

  • dhamma Dec 27, 2006

    Most trucks fully loaded are close to 80 thousand pounds. I fail to understand why people think they can stop so quickly. Most truck drivers go far beyond your average driver. Driver psychology is becoming a major issue. We do not "own" the road or any part of it. When someone makes a mistake, its not an attack against you. If someone is driving like an idiot, let it go its not your job to go after them. If you simply drive and always expect the unexpected, you will fair much better. Thats what most truck drivers do.

  • HighRiskCO Dec 27, 2006

    WE must remember that a fully loaded 18 wheeler may take 1/2 to 3/4 of a mile to obtain the speed of traffic flow. So when you see an eighteen wheeler entering the highway, give him/her some courtesy and move over if possible. After all, they are moving America's products throughout the country.
    Additionally, for a fully loaded 18 wheeler to make an emergency stop, takes a miricale. Give them a brake but most of all, give them the respect and room they deserve!

  • LibertarianTechie Dec 27, 2006

    Although I am not a truck driver, I am on US1/15/501 a lot. When truck drivers pull out onto the highway, forcing you to slow down quickly and lay down on the horn, it really makes me think that when ever accidents like the one above happen, truck drivers bring on themselves.

  • diwanicki Dec 27, 2006

    You would be suprised how things like this happen to truck drivers. Cars pull out in front of them ride their bumper ect.. and expect the truck to stop on a dime. Give these truck drivers some courtesy too. They are bigger than you and its not as easy for them to stop as it is for you. They carry alot of weight. Not all truck drivers are jerks.