May 01–A car traveling the wrong way on southbound Interstate 75 crashed into a gasoline tanker truck, creating a smoky fire that shut down the interstate in both directions Sunday evening, sending motorists searching for detours and triggering environmental concerns on reports of thick smoke entering part of the city’s sewer system.
The driver of the car was confirmed killed in the crash, while the truck driver suffered minor injuries, police said.
Police had not released the identities of either driver late Sunday night.
The collision at about 4:40 p.m. shut down the interstate between U.S. 35 and Ohio 4, a well-traveled section of the road that winds through downtown Dayton. Shortly before the crash, regional dispatchers received multiple calls about a vehicle going the wrong way on I-75 southbound.
The fire that involved a gasoline tanker truck burned for hours, and smoke could be seen for miles around the downtown area.
Environmental Protection Agency and hazardous materials crews, along with representatives of Dayton’s wellfield protection office, responded to the scene, Dayton Police Lt. Mark Ponichtera said.
“We had quite a bit of a scene, large explosions going on right now,” Ponichtera said in a hastily called press conference off the interstate. “The fire crews had to let that burn out before they were able to put foam on that. We do have a Haz-Mat response here as a result of that.”
Brad Roediger, who lives on MacPherson Street in Dayton, said he saw smoke early on from the crash. “Then I heard a boom. And I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a little bigger than the fire.’
“It was huge,” he added. “I felt the heat from it. I saw kids riding their bikes, and I told them: You might want to go the other way.”
There were reports of smoke filling the sewer system in Dayton’s McPherson Town, where thick black smoke was reported and photographed coming from the sewer grates. Residents were told to call 911 if they saw smoke in their basements or homes.
Fire crews were in the neighborhood flushing the storm sewers with water by about 7:30 p.m.
Ponichtera said Ohio Department of Transportation crews had to be certain the interstate was structurally sound before opening it again. He expected the southbound side where the crash happened to be closed for a longer period of time.
The driver of the tanker was cooperating with investigators, he said.
Less than an hour after the crash, Bob Lenser, the ODOT Montgomery County administrator, warned motorists to stay clear of the area, saying he expected the highway to be closed for some time.
“We haven’t even assessed damage to the pavement,” Lenser said shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday.
ODOT-suggested detours funneled northbound vehicles to I-675 as a detour, telling them to head west on I-70 to return to I-75 in the area of Vandalia.
For those traveling south, motorists were advised to take I-75 to I-70 eastbound to I-675 south.
A February 2016 wrong-way crash near the same part of I-75 in Dayton killed five people in what was found to be the deadliest crash in Ohio since 2013.
James Pohlabeln, 61, was driving intoxicated for the second time in two days Feb. 13 last year, when he drove the wrong way on I-75. He struck a sports utility vehicle, killing four people: Kyle Canter, 23, of New Carlisle; Earl Miller II, 27, of New Carlisle; Vashti Nicole Brown, 29, of Dayton; and Devin Bachmann, 26, of Huber Heights.
Authorities said Pohlabeln had reportedly threatened suicide in the past and earlier in the evening before his crash. His crash was one of several in the area in early 2016 involving wrong-way drivers.
By Thomas Gnau and Katie Wedell, Dayton Daily News, Ohio
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