Though rains made roads slick, driver error may have been to blame for a two-vehicle rollover that forced the closure of a five-mile stretch of I-15 in Utah County on Tuesday.
At approximately 11 a.m., a diesel truck carrying gasoline and a pickup carrying an ice trailer nearly collided on southbound I-15 near Pleasant Grove, said Utah Highway Patrol Sgt. Doug Rawlinson. Both vehicles went out of control, and the pickup rolled off the freeway's right side, while the diesel rolled into the median before coming to rest on its passenger side."I don't know if the driver of the pickup was distracted or what, but the vehicle drifted left and made contact with the diesel," said Rawlinson, who interviewed several witnesses. "It was severe enough to cause both of them go out of control."
The diesel was loaded with approximately 11,000 gallons of gasoline. Two punctures in the tank, including one near the top hatch, caused the fuel to spill into the median.
Within minutes, Utah Highway Patrol and Utah County sheriff's officers responded to the scene. Because of the fuel spill, crews from the American Fork, Orem and Pleasant Grove fire departments were also called to the scene.
While those crews began assessing the damage and waited for a siphoning truck, American Fork and Orem police officers - as well as UHP troopers - closed off both northbound and southbound I-15 between American Fork and Lindon. Although not all the fuel had been cleaned up, officers reopened the freeway five hours later, at approximately 5 p.m. Two of the six lanes remained closed Wednesday morning.
Utah County Sheriff's Lt. Dick Casto, who serves as emergency services coordinator for the county, said cleanup of the gas spill could take days. As much as 6,000 gallons of gasoline may have spilled into the ground or off the freeway, and the rest was siphoned into other tanker trucks.
Officers diverted vehicles onto either Geneva Road, which runs from Lindon to Provo, or U.S. 89, which runs through the entire county. Traffic coming off the freeway was backed up as far as the Orem Center Street exit on the northbound side and Lehi on the southbound side. Traffic was also backed up times in areas of Pleasant Grove, American Fork, Lindon and Orem.
More than 2 dozen other accidents occurred between Lehi and Orem because of the rains or the traffic stoppage. However, none of the victims were severely injured.
"We were just tied up for hours because off all this stuff going on," said Orem police spokesman Gerald Nielsen.
Neither the driver of the diesel, Evan Sullivan, 24, Cedar City, nor the ice truck driver, Randall Reeves, 17, Hooper, was seriously injured. Sullivan was taken to American Fork Hospital for treatment of a cut on the back of his head, while Reeves and a passenger were treated at the scene for scratches and bruises.
The incident, as well as the accompanying accidents, are still under investigation. Rawlinson said he expects at least one driver will be cited for the original collision.
Cleanup costs for the spill could reach thousands of dollars. Because of an ordinance adopted by the Utah County Commission this year, either Sullivan's employer, Ken Bettridge Trucking, or Reeves' employer, Utah Ice Co., could be liable for the entire cost of cleanup.