WARREN, Pa. - A truck driver was seriously injured, his tanker truck was destroyed and a section of Route 59 was shut down Monday when the truck overturned, spilling its load of asphalt, some of which reached the Allegheny River.
PennDOT issued a press release late Monday afternoon saying the road would not be re-opened until 8 p.m. Tuesday, but state police at Warren said the road was reopened at about 6:30 p.m. Monday.
According to Warren-based state police, the asphalt tanker, owned by Vestal Asphalt of Vestal, N.Y., left the roadway about 5 miles east of the Route 6 intersection at 7:39 a.m. Monday.
State police identified the driver as Dennis K. Korell of Binghamton. He was flown by a Starflight helicopter to UPMC Hamot in Erie with major injuries.
The site of the accident was on an eastbound left-hand curve, and a state police trooper said the truck left the roadway, struck a large rock and the guide rail end. The tractor then flipped onto its side, dragging the tanker trailer along the guide rail. The ensuing slide ripped holes in the top of the tank, allowing the hot liquid to escape after the trailer rolled onto its back in a ditch.
The asphalt then flowed into a small stream, under Route 59, down the hillside and entered the Allegheny River, coating the stream bed from the eastbound lane side of Route 59 all the way to the river.
The distance the vehicle traveled after leaving the roadway totaled 1,450 feet, according to the trooper.
Emergency responders from Clarendon and Glade volunteer fire departments, as well as the City of Warren and Emergycare, worked for about two and a half hours to free the driver from the cab using mechanical extraction.
Fire police from Starbrick and Pleasant volunteer fire departments responded later in the morning to assist Clarendon volunteers at the intersection of Route 6 and also at the bridge over Brown Run.
Representatives from the U.S. Forest Service, the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and Warren County All Hazards Team placed absorbent booms in the stream.
Neil Guiles, president of Vestal Asphalt, said the truck was bound for the company's plant in Vestal. He said that a team was dispatched to the scene immediately.
"We have four or five people on the site to assess the situation and help with the booms. It's a horrible thing, but we are dealing with it," he said, adding that it was a single-vehicle accident.
Nate Welker, fisheries biologist for the Allegheny National Forest, surveyed the spill, and said the company that owns the truck will be responsible for clean-up costs.
"They are required to carry insurance for this," he said.
Justin Guiles, Vestal vice president, was at the accident site Monday afternoon with two other company employees.
He said, "We got to the scene as soon as possible. The most important thing was the driver's welfare, then environmental concerns."
He explained that the asphalt was "about 325 degrees," but was unsure of the capacity of that particular tanker, noting that there are a number of different sizes.
Lisa Stanton, fleet manager for Vestal, said the company has around 250 trucks, and Guiles said the company has never had an accident this severe.
"And I hope we never do again," he added.
Around 2 p.m., Tim Koebley and other Koebley workers managed to free the Mack tractor from the tanker by cutting the fifth wheel with a torch, and lifted it to the road surface with a large tow truck.
Koebley said the truck was towable, although the tanker had to be lifted onto a "low-boy" trailer.
PennDOT workers dumped loads of non-skid gravel onto the road prior to lifting the tanker, to protect the road surface in case any liquid asphalt remained in the tank.
Don Hanna of the DEP said that a contract for clean-up had been given to EAP Industries of Atlasburg, Pa.
Larry Osten was the first EAP employee on scene because he works out of the Titusville office.
"There is already another four-man team on the way, and a roll-off container," he said. "It will probably be mostly hand work. The asphalt peels up from the stream bed like a bed sheet, but in places where it is 3 inches thick, it breaks into chunks. It's a big project."
He said there won't be any equipment on scene until Tuesday, and he may have to shut down one lane of traffic.