Local News

Wrecked Tanker, Explosion Shut Down I-85 For 6 Hours

Posted May 17, 2004 8:47 a.m. EDT

— A tanker truck crashed and caught fire on Interstate 85 early Sunday, closing the northbound lanes near the Virginia border for about six hours and sending a fireball into the sky above Warren County.

"It was 30 feet in the air, and it was spectacular," David Askew, of Warren County Emergency Management, said of the fire.

According to the Highway Patrol, a change in the design of that portion of I-85 could prevent that kind of wreck from happening again.

DOT spokesperson Michaela Brown said southbound traffic was not affected by the 3:30 a.m. crash and fire near Norlina.

The tanker truck driver, Jarvis Epps, crawled away from the truck with a cut on his head and second-degree burns. He was treated at a local hospital and released.

Askew said Epps, driving for Eagle Transport of Rocky Mount, fell asleep at the wheel going north on I-85. The tanker overturned, hit a tree and cut in half.

The truck was carrying 8,100 gallons of a combination of gasoline and diesel, which sparked the explosion.

No other vehicles were involved.

Emergency crews let the fire burn itself out and did not pour water on it to prevent contaminating a nearby creek.

The flames reportedly spread to the creek and nearby woods. A preliminary report by the Highway Patrol did not say whether or not the fire threatened property.

The Mecklenburg (Va.) County portion of I-85 has rumble strips on the side of the interstate, which can wake up a sleepy driver. On the Warren County, N.C., side, there are no rumble strips -- something authorities think would have made a big difference.

"The Highway Patrol was really adamant about that this morning," Askew said, "that it could make a difference. It's made a difference in Granville County."

Some Highway Patrol troopers are lobbying to get the strips in Warren County too. But that is up to the DOT.

"We've had multiple asleep at the wheels, and unfortunately, it is cars as well," Askew said. "But the 18 wheelers, they pack a big punch with what they're carrying."

Environmental experts said they did not believe a significant amount of fuel spilled Sunday. But they dug up soil for testing.