SELMA — A tanker truck filled with ethanol tipped over at a busy intersection Tuesday, closing two roads and evacuating nine businesses for more than eight hours.
The tanker truck, belonging to Hot Z Transportation, overturned near the intersection of U.S. 70 and Ricks Road, just off of Exit 97 on Interstate 95. The truck held 8,000 gallons of ethanol, which is highly flammable. Roughly 800 gallons spilled onto the road, said Selma’s fire chief, Phillip McDaniel.
According to the incident report, the driver was going too fast while making a right turn from Ricks Road onto U.S. 70 West, causing the truck to tip on its left side.
The driver, Shaun Eugene Price, 49, of 77 Jones Road, Smithfield, was charged with reckless driving, said David Neilsen, the police officer who investigated the accident. His employers could also face fines for the accident, Neilsen added.
Price was treated at Johnston Medical Center in Smithfield for nonserious injuries and released on the same day as the accident, Neilsen said.
The accident occurred at about 1 p.m., McDaniel said. First responders closed off the intersection within about 10 minutes, he said, and began to evacuate an estimated 1,000 people from the area.
“It’s a very flammable material, so it could have caught on fire,” McDaniel said. “You have this fuel product on the ground with ignition sources basically anywhere because it’s in the middle of this populated area. So we evacuated immediately to keep the people in the area protected in case there was a fire.” He added that the fumes are also dangerous.
The fire department laid down foam to suppress the vapors, McDaniel said. Then Hepaco, a cleanup group hired by Hot Z Transportation, arrived within two hours of the spill. Hepaco drilled a hole into the tank and transferred the fuel into another truck so that the overturned tanker could be righted.
The town opened the roads up again at around 10 p.m.
Hot Z Transportation paid for the cleanup costs, McDaniel said. The company will also have to reimburse the town for its expenses, which he estimated at $15,000. The foam was expensive, and some of the fire department’s gear was contaminated, he said.
McDaniel said the fire department was prepared for this kind of spill. “We do a lot of training,” he said. “Selma has a lot of this type of traffic going through our roads.” He said Johnston County Emergency Management and other fire departments provided manpower, including those from Pine Level, Wilson’s Mills and Micro.
The evacuation and closed roads meant lost money for businesses at the busy intersection, which captures both local and I-95 traffic.
Bharat Patel, owner of Masters Inn, said he probably lost 10 to 15 room stays, or about $600 to $700. “I hadn’t finished my lunch, and it was a big boom sound,” he said.
People then ran over to help the driver. “Luckily there was no fire,” he said.
People already at his inn didn’t have to evacuate, but they did have to go to the back of the building, away from the accident, Patel said. Losing the money was tough, especially in the down economy.
“Luckily, no one was injured,” he said. “It could have been worse. If it had exploded, it would have been a disaster.”
Because of wasted food and food given to the firefighters, Bojangles’ lost about $7,000, said Scott Harper, unit director. But the loss won’t hurt the bottom line too badly, he said.
Cookout lost between $1,800 and $2,000, said Josh Hopkins, manager. “We had to throw away a lot of product, and there was a lot of cleaning involved, a lot of labor lost,” he said.
“We’re not doing as great as we would like to because of that hit,” Hopkins said Wednesday. “But we’ve done a whole lot more business than we usually do, so we’re going to get it all back today.”