Safety & Compliance

Tanker Explosion Kills Driver, Damages AL Highway

May 16, 2000

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A Sunday morning tanker crash in Mobile, AL, that killed the truck driver and damaged an overpass and has raised questions about the safety of the ramp where the crash happened.

Edgar Raymond Pelanne Jr., an owner-operator leased to C&G Trucking in Chickasaw, AL, was hauling about 8,000 gallons of gasoline as he took the on-ramp onto I-10 from Battleship Parkway. The truck slammed through the guard rail and the tanker fell onto the highway below, bursting into flames. The fire was so intense it "disintegrated" the top 2 inches of asphalt, according to a maintenance engineer for the Alabama DOT. The heat was estimated at 1,600 degrees.
The crash disrupted traffic for two days, and it will take months to repair the entrance ramp.
An investigation is still ongoing, but police and other truck drivers told the Mobile Register that excessive speed and load shifting might have been possible factors.
Sunday's crash was the second in that spot involving a tanker truck in recent years, reports the Register. In August 1997, a tanker loaded with battery acid was speeding through the 18-degree curve, overturned, and spilled its load.
Truckers say the curve is too sharp and is not banked enough. In an editorial, the Register questioned the safety of the on-ramp's design.
"Engineers should not wait until another catastrophic wreck occurs at the same spot," the newspaper writes. It points out that the ramp is heavily used by trucks containing hazardous materials. "Because they are forbidden to drive through the I-10 tunnel, such trucks generally cross the river via the Cochrain-Africatown USA Bridge and then return to I-10 on the ramp in question."
The paper says traffic engineers need to look into whether the ramp is too sharp, and if it's unrealistic to expect drivers to abide by the 20-mph speed limit on the ramp. "If engineers answer 'yes,' then they're obligated to replace the ramp with a safer design before anyone else is hurt or killed."

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