March 28, 2011

Westbound I-30 still closed after tanker truck explosion

An early morning accident involving a wrong-way driver and a tanker truck caused massive damage to bridge beams, which could take several months to fix.

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Westbound Interstate 30 just east of downtown Fort Worth could be closed through much of the evening after a fiery early-morning accident involving a fuel tanker caused massive damage to the roadway and bridge beams.

"Crews are working as quickly as possible to make this section of roadway safe for motorists," said Texas Department of Transportation spokeswoman Jodi Hodges, adding that the repairs could take several months.

"Those beams are going to have to be replaced," Hodges said.

Louis Nieves, 23, the driver of a 1996 red Ford pickup that slammed into the fully loaded fuel tanker while headed the wrong way on I-30, is under arrest on suspicion of driving while intoxicated and intoxication manslaughter, Fort Worth police said.

He has taken a blood test but results were not yet available, said Sgt. Cynthia Blake of the Traffic Investigation Unit.

The officer who spoke with Nieves after the crash reported that his speech was slurred, that he had a strong odor of alcohol on his breath and that he said he had been drinking, according to the police report.

In a jailhouse interview with TV news station WFAA, Nieves said that he was "really sorry" and that he remembers drinking about 10 beers before getting behind the wheel and nobody tries to stop him from driving.

Police did not yet know where the pickup entered the westbound lanes of I-30, but the first calls from witnesses around 2:30 a.m. Monday described it as headed eastbound near Henderson and Cherry streets in downtown Fort Worth, Blake said.

A few minutes later, just east of Interstate 35W near Riverside Drive, the pickup slammed head-first into the tanker truck, which had just filled up with fuel, Blake said.

The truck overturned and exploded, sending flames high into the night. The tanker driver, identified by police as Alejandro Raya, 45, was trapped inside the cab after the crash, according to the police report.

He died at the scene. The red pickup was cast aside, with its front end smashed.

Nieves was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital for his injuries and was released into police custody Monday morning, police said.

Most of the fuel from the tanker truck was allowed to burn off before firefighters extinguished the blaze, Fort Worth Fire Department spokesman Tim Hardeman said.

A cleanup crew and an official with the city's environmental department were at the scene, Hardeman said.

The Fire Department's hazardous materials team set up devices in the levee and riverbank underneath the bridge to catch any fuel that seeped into the water but test readings showed low levels of contamination, Hardeman said.

Police blocked all entrances to the freeway near Beach Street and Riverside Drive until 5 a.m., when traffic began moving in the eastbound lanes.

The tanker truck was owned and operated by Petro-Chemical Transport, a fuel tanker company based in Addison, a company spokeswoman said.

The accident was the second in less than a week that caused damage to Tarrant County roadways. On Thursday, a collision between a car and an empty water truck damaged a flyover at I-20 and I-35W in south Fort Worth. The overpass was repaired over the weekend at a cost of $15,000, according to TxDOT.

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