LINCOLN PARK (WWJ) - A tanker that was carrying 8,000 gallons of gasoline crashed and burst into flames on I-75 near the Detroit-Lincoln Park border -- and the freeway might not reopen for days.
The accident happened around 3 a.m. Thursday on I-75 just south of Schaefer Avenue in Melvindale.
Michigan State Police Lt. Mike Shaw said the tanker was initially traveling southbound on I-75 when the driver somehow lost control of the vehicle. The tanker struck the median wall, flipped over onto the northbound side of the freeway and erupted in flames.
"The driver was transported to a local hospital," said Shaw. "He's in very critical condition."
Reports say the 53-year-old driver, who works for the Corrigan Oil Company, suffered burns to over 90 percent of his body.
"The safety and well being of our employees, contractors and neighbors is our first priority," Corrigan Oil said in a statement, "and we ask you to keep our driver in your thoughts and prayers."
[UPDATE 8/21: The tank driver has died from his injuries]
The Lincoln Park Fire Department called in help from Southgate and Dearborn and requested foam trucks from Marathon Oil and Detroit Metro Airport to put out the flames, which took about two hours.
"There's nothing at all left of this tanker truck here, it's just a few pieces of twisted steel," WWJ's Bill Szumanski said from above the scene in Chopper 950.
The freeway's southbound lanes were shut down through the morning rush hour, but reopened to traffic around 11:25 a.m. Thursday. However, MDOT says the northbound lanes will be closed until at least 5 a.m. Monday, August 24.
"Right now we don't know what exactly occurred," said Shaw. "Naturally, a lot of people have some speculations about speed or whatever, things like that, but what we'll do is we'll go in there and we want to make sure. We're not rushing right away."
Motorists are urged to avoid the area. Southbound I-75 is closed at Schaefer and northbound I-75 is closed at the Southfield Freeway.
Neighbors near the freeway say the crash "literally shook" their homes. Hailey Terry lives just a few feet from the scene.
"We were all laying in bed, sound asleep, and then next thing we know we just heard a loud boom and the house started shaking. So, we just got up and ran outside and there were just flames everywhere and smoke and we called 911 right away," she said.
Reporting live from the scene, WWJ's Charlie Langton said it appears the fiery gas ran off the freeway and down an embankment, charring nearly everything in its path.
"I'm on just the east side of I-75 and I'm in a field right now where the gas from the tanker went into a little river here and singed telephone poles and trees. There's also a buildup of foam from firefighting efforts, and it stretches for quite a way in these woods," he said.
Lincoln Park Fire Chief Al Dyer said residents shouldn't be concerned about the runoff affecting their water supply.
"Right now we have the HAZMAT crew monitoring the sewer and what they're informing me is that the sewer system on I-75 is separate from the sewer system in the residential area," said Dyer. "We have been out testing in the residential area and we're not finding anything there, so we're just on the I-75 systems."
The crash remains under investigation. Anyone who may have witnessed the crash is urged to contact Michigan State Police at 248-584-5740.
Thursday's accident is the fourth tanker fire in the past five months in metro Detroit.
In June, an empty tanker caught fire on southbound I-75 before I-375. No injuries were reported.
In May, a tanker carrying 9,000 gallons of unleaded fuel burst into flames on a northbound I-75 ramp near Ford Field. The ramp was closed for a week.
In March, a tanker carrying 13,000 gallons of unleaded and diesel fuel exploded into a ball of flames on I-94 west of Wyoming on the Detroit-Dearborn border.
Another major tanker fire was 6-years-ago when a tanker hauling 13,000 gallons of fuel exploded on I-75 under the 9 Mile Road overpass. Heat from the fire caused the 9 Mile bridge to collapse onto the freeway.
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