Jackson, TN Tractor Trailer Crash, Jun 1999


Jackson, Tenn. - The 75-foot high fire and explosion that erupted when a tractor-trailer hit a tanker carrying oxygen could have been much worse, officials said. The oxygen tanker was nearly empty when it was hit, said Dana Keeton of the Tennessee Highway Patrol.
Five people died and one was injured when a tractor trailer driver apparently fell asleep and ran into the oxygen tanker in front of the rest stop at mile marker 73.
"It would have been a much larger explosion and it would have affected the entire rest area," said Keeton, THP public information officer. "It had already been emptied, but it still created a hazardous situation."
Fire and emergency crews worked 10 hours Thursday to keep flames and heat away from the oxygen, which is highly flammable. Traffic was diverted around the crash site most of the day Thursday, and was down to one lane until Friday afternoon. Jackson's THP Capt. Gerald Allen said traffic should flow as usual this morning.
The oxygen tanker belong to Cryogenics Transportation Inc. of Omaha. The drivers were JOHN HALL, 59, and FLORENCE ARMSTRONG, 47, both of Perkins, Okla. They were both killed in the crash.
The Ryder truck, carrying boxes of undergarments and rolls of clothing fabrics was leased to ladies undergarment maker Cupid Foundations Inc. of Blackwell, Okla. The drivers were MIKE NEELEY, 32, and RICK HOLDER, 41, both of Tonkowa, Okla.
"We are terribly saddened by the loss of two great employees," said Jim McCormack, director of safety and human resources for Cupid Foundations. NEELEY and HOLDER were heading back from Miami and had been through the Carolinas. They were supposed to return home Thursday night. "Our hearts go out to their families."
Officials say the fifth victim, a man, was traveling in the Ryder truck, but officials will not release his name until they notify the next of kin.
When the oxygen tanker was hit, it was parked behind two other trucks along the ramp leading from the rest area, Allen said. Keeton said the Ryder truck slammed into a 1999 Peterbilt being driven by Alexander Tsvetkov, 34, and Igor Petryuk, 34, both of Brooklyn, N.Y. The truck was leased to Aleksey Konshin, owner of a small trucking company in Oklahoma. Tsvetkov and Petryuk were not hurt.
A fourth truck, driven by TONY COLLINS, of Hanover, Ind., also was hit in the accident. COLLINS, who was asleep, was thrown from his bunk, broke his collarbone and ruptured his spleen. He is in fair condition at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital and may be held one more day, said hospital spokeswoman Kay Craddock.
COLLINS, Tsvetkov and Petryuk were ticketed for improper parking, Keeton said.
The entrance and exits to rest areas are considered part of the interstate and it's illegal to park there unless it's an emergency, Keeton said. She said the oxygen tanker may have been parked on the shoulder as well, but an eyewitness said the truck was rolling out of the rest stop at the time.
Allen said the ticketed drivers and the tanker were probably parked there because the rest area was full.
The accident - apparently caused by a sleepy driver - brought to light the need for more rest areas where truckers can stop and get their sleep, said one local trucking company vice president, Joe Wells. Truckers are allowed to drive only 10 hours every 24-hour period, but rest areas are often full, Wells said.

The Jackson Sun Tennessee 1999-06-05