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Wrecks close Highway 89

JEREMY MORRISON, Sun News Service

It was a rough haul for big rigs on Highway 89. Bookended by two tractor-trailer wrecks, the holiday-weekend began Saturday morning with an overturned propane truck near River Road and ended Monday with a similar accident involving a Safeway truck.

“It was loaded with 9,600 gallons of propane; that’s a lot of propane,” said California Highway Patrol Officer Ron Wulff of the Button Transportation Inc. truck that overturned while attempting to pull into Suburban Propane.

Two fire engines, three command officers, an ambulance and the Eastern Placer County Hazardous Material Response Team were dispatched to the scene just after 4:30 a.m. on Saturday. The CHP and Caltrans blocked off the area and evacuated four individuals who lived within the potential blast area.

Officials were concerned about a possible propane leak, which could have potentially created an explosion or contaminated the Truckee River. There were no breaches found in the vessel and the State Fish and Game found no evidence of leakage into the river.

After it was determined that there were no leaks, a crane and two tow trucks were used to turn the rig right side up and haul it onto the road. A second truck then off-loaded the propane.

“It’s not the type of thing you just grab hold of and pull up onto the road,” Wulff said, explaining the precautions that had to be taken to ensure no holes were torn in the trailer.

The accident occurred when the driver of the rig, Gregory Carlton of Sacramento, tried to back up for a better pull-in angle.

“That’s when the trailer tires went off the road onto the soft side,” Wulff said.

Carlton was able to get out of the truck before it slid off the bank and onto its left side.

“The long and short of it is nobody was hurt, no property damage was done and we all basically went home cold and wet,” said Chief Dewayne Whitelaw of the North Tahoe Fire Protection District. “The whole thing took about nine hours.”

During those nine hours, there was significant traffic congestion due to the accident. Because a portion of Highway 89 was closed, drivers were rerouted to Highway 267, causing a backup on Highway 28 stretching to Tahoe City. Eventually, Caltrans was forced to close Highway 267 because of the high number of spin-outs.

Just over 48 hours later, at 5:30 a.m. on Monday, another tractor trailer wrecked on Highway 89 near Goose Meadow campground. A Safeway truck apparently hit an icy patch between bridges 10 and 11, the driver lost control of the vehicle and it slid into the Truckee River. The driver was not injured in the accident.

“Basically, the trailer just passed the tractor,” said Squaw Valley Fire Department Chief Pete Bansen.

Officials initially suspected the partially submerged truck was leaking diesel fuel.

“We had liquid from the fuel tank leaking into the river,” said Lt. Mike Gallagher of the Squaw Valley Fire Department. “We just kind of called that from a safe distance.”

Gallagher said that no one approached the truck at first because it was deemed too dangerous. With daylight, and upon further investigation, it became evident that there was in fact no diesel leak.

“It was just snow-melt off the cab of the truck,” Gallagher said.

If there had been a fuel leak into the river, members of the Squaw Valley Fire Department were waiting a few hundred yards down stream with a hydro carbon absorbent boom, which would have been dropped from a bridge into the river.

The accident closed a portion of Highway 89 for 4.5 hours Monday morning. All traffic was routed around the wreck area, with the exception of Squaw Valley USA and Alpine Meadow employees, who were allowed to travel the highway in order to get to work.

There was also a subsequent wreck involving a Truckee Fire Department engine, which was responding to the original accident. Two fire department personnel were taken to Tahoe Forest Hospital where they were treated for injuries and released.


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