Oil tanker crash costs immeasurable | SummitDaily.com

Oil tanker crash costs immeasurable

SUMMIT COUNTY – Thursday’s tanker crash threw travelers, businesses and interstate commerce into a temporary upheaval, a cost Colorado State Patrol Cpt. Ron Prater said is nearly impossible to measure but is likely staggering.

“I really feel truckers don’t understand all the people they impact when they lose control of their rig and close the road,” he said. “I wish we could calculate the dollar amount that’s lost along the interstate when it’s closed. In my opinion, there should be some accountability.”

The trucker, 36-year-old John Graham, of Julesburg, Colo., was taking a load of unleaded gasoline to Gypsum when he lost control of the truck on westbound Interstate 70 just west of Copper Mountain. The tank ruptured when the vehicle and trailer rolled down the embankment between the two lanes, leaking about 1,000 gallons of the 8,000-gallon load into the median.

Graham was cited for careless driving. Prater doesn’t think icy roads were a factor in the crash.

The accident closed westbound I-70 for about 7 hours and eastbound for 12 hours while crews unloaded the remaining fuel from the tanker, righted the trailer and hauled it off the interstate.

But neither Graham nor his company gets away scot-free. In addition to the citation issued to Graham, Petroleum Transportation – the company for which he was driving – must pay for the cleanup.

Prater said he dealt with “some really angry people” who were stranded by the crash, many of them on Vail Pass. “They were angry, and rightfully so,” he said. “There were people with children in their cars, people running out of gas, who had no facilities.”

Those drivers weren’t able to continue east down the pass into Summit County or west back to Vail. More than three hours after the pass closed, the stranded drivers were allowed to drive west in the eastbound lanes of I-70 back to Vail to wait out the closure.

The trucker is likely to pay a heavy price – potentially the loss of his job – for losing control of his vehicle, said Colorado Motor Carriers Association president Greg Fulton.

“In most cases, the company (with which the driver is employed) takes action on those drivers, and in many cases, drivers are let go because of these things,” he said.

Fulton said trucking-related accidents are on the decrease, but when they do happen, they’re typically dramatic and newsworthy. And that focuses attention on the entire industry.

“I’m not trying to minimize this incident, but what people forget to focus on is really how safe the industry has become,” Fulton said. “In 2002 – for the third year in a row – trucking-related highway fatalities dropped, while overall highway fatalities rose. That’s despite the fact we’ve had an increase in overall freight growth.”

Additionally, Fulton said, automobile drivers are at fault in trucking-related crashes 75 percent of the time.

He also noted that while Thursday’s lengthy highway closure inconvenienced many drivers, it probably cost the trucking industry more than anybody waiting in line for the highway to reopen.

Copper Mountain Fire Chief Scott Randolph said clean-up crews “feel pretty confident” none of the gasoline will make it to nearby waterways.

“They worked until about midnight last night trying to get ready for the thaw they knew was coming today,” he said, adding that the workers were back on site Friday. “They’ll assess how far the penetration got, dig all the soil up and replace it.”

R.M. Cat, a company that specializes in hazardous materials cleanup, was called to the site Thursday. In addition to that company, the Copper Mountain, Lake Dillon and Snake River fire departments will be reimbursed for costs associated with the cleanup.

Jane Reuter can be reached at (970) 668-3998, ext. 229, or by e-mail at jreuter@summitdaily.com.

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