The names of those involved in last week’s fatal crash on the Ohio Turnpike, as well as more details, were released on Monday.
According to a release from the Wauseon Fire Department, two crashes preceded the fatal crash that caused the fire.
The first was at 7:01 p.m. at mile post 34.4. A semi-truck struck two different vehicles and resulted in 8 people being transported to hospitals or treated at the scene. The injuries were minor and squads from Archbold, Delta, Fayette, and Wauseon were dispatched to the scene.
Before the first crash was cleared, a second crash involving commercial vehicles was reported at mile post 34 in the eastbound lanes. No major injuries resulted from this crash, but the eastbound lanes of the Turnpike were shut down.
“This crash caused extensive damage to the vehicles involved and separated the semi-trailers from their tractors and even dislodged one of the tractor cabs from its frame, sending it sliding on its side down the highway,” said Wauseon Fire Chief Richard Sluder, in the release. “Fortunately for the driver of this vehicle, his seat belt held him safely in place and he was able to crawl out of the wreckage with minor abrasions.”
While that scene was being wrapped up, the main crash was reported by Fulton County 911 Dispatch.
“Traffic from the first two crashes already had Turnpike traffic slowed in both directions, but engine companies from Archbold, Delta, and Wauseon were able to arrive on scene within minutes,” Sluder said.
According to the Swanton post of the Ohio State Highway Patrol, a semi operated by Larry D. Maxwell, 50, of Springfield, Ohio was traveling eastbound on the Ohio Turnpike and crashed into the rear of a semi operated by Richard McCullough, 60, of Auburn, Indiana, according to officials. That impact caused McCullough’s semi to strike the rear of another semi operated by 50-year-old, Peter O. Tuite, of Susquehanna, Pennsylvania.
Tuite’s semi then lunged forward from that impact and struck the rear of a semi operated by 60 year old, Al Brown, of Riverdale, Illinois. The impact between Maxwell’s semi and McCullough’s semi caused Maxwell’s semi to catch fire and eventually caused the tank trailer loaded with 3,000 gallons of liquid hydrogen to catch fire.
Maxwell died as a result of the crash. McCullough and his passenger Dallas Smith, 59, of Findlay were treated at the scene by EMTs for minor injuries. Peter O. Tuite was not injured. However, his passenger, 49-year-old Michael Abbot, of Dundalk, Maryland, was transported to the Fulton County Health Center and treated for minor injuries. Al Brown was not injured.
This incident brought several concerns to the responding departments. First, hydrogen gas was leaking from the 3,000 gallon breached pressure vessel and burning. Second, the contents of the destroyed semi were not known and the possible reaction with fire and hydrogen gas was uncertain. Third, the structural integrity of the pressure vessel was not initially known and the ability to approach and inspect was impeded by burning hydrogen, according to the release.
“These concerns were amplified by the fact that many traveling civilians and commercial vehicles were literally trapped on the Ohio Turnpike,” according to Sluder.
Water supply on hand was rapidly depleted and a tanker shuttle had to be established using all area fire departments and many others from surrounding counties. Since the westbound lanes were the only available travel route a water fill site was established in Elmyria from the Archbold water system.
In total, 455,200 gallons of water were hauled from the Archbold municipal water system in 137 trips from the fill site. Units were able to flow an average of 25,000 gallons of water per hour for 17 hours. Fifteen fire departments supplied tanker support and 19 provided engine and support apparatus.
“The tactics used at this scene to control the fire were mainly using copious amounts of water to keep the pressure vessel cool and let the hydrogen burn off until the contents of the vessel had depleted,” Sluder said.
This was decided to be the best course of action, following several conference calls with company representatives. Contact was maintained with company and industry experts through a conference call.
“Several hours into the incident it was determined that no previous situation had ever been experienced industry-wide where the entire control valve system of a hydrogen tanker had been destroyed, therefore there would be no way to contain this product,” said Sluder.
Company representatives arrived Friday morning and ensured the scene would remain safe as long as the vessel could be kept cool and internal pressure kept low.
It was also determined that helium would be needed to keep workers protected. As safety measure, helium was pumped into the hydrogen trailer to purge any remaining hydrogen.
Sluder said the Wauseon Fire Department is thankful for the assistance of all of the area responders.
“It took the cooperation and dedication of all of the Fulton County Fire Departments to not only directly respond to the major Turnpike incidents, but also provide coverage for the other emergency calls for service in Fulton County during this time period as well,” he said. “These incidents truly stretched the limits of any one department, but it showed that cooperative efforts of your Fulton County Fire Departments can be matched by none.”
Multiple fire departments from outside Fulton County also assisted, including some from Williams, Henry, and Lucas counties.
In addition to the area departments, the State Highway Patrol was assisted at the scene by Turnpike Maintenance, Fulton County Sheriff’s Office, Fulton County Emergency Management Agency, the Environmental Protection Agency, Air Products and the Fulton County Red Cross.
The crash remains under investigation and alcohol is not believed to be a factor.