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Rig accident closes interstate ramp

August 12, 1998|By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. - The ramp to northbound Interstate 81 from W.Va. 9 west was closed for more than seven hours Wednesday after a drowsy truck driver veered off northbound I-81 at the ramp and his load of car batteries was damaged, according to police and emergency services officials.

The accident happened shortly before 5:30 a.m., said Capt. Curtis Keller of the Berkeley County Sheriff's Department.

William Howard Blevins, 43, of Meadowview, Va., told police he fell asleep at the wheel of his 1987 Kensworth tractor-trailer, Keller said.

The Reading, Pa.-bound truck went off the road and down a ditch, said Stephen S. Allen, director of the Berkeley County Office of Emergency Services.

Its trailer's rear wheels were sheared as it came up out of the ditch onto the ramp, Allen said.

The truck continued over the ramp and struck a guardrail before it came to rest upright with just a small portion sticking out on the road, he said.

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A pickup truck coming onto the ramp at the time of the accident had to screech to a halt to avoid a collision, Allen said.

Blevins and the pickup truck's occupant didn't require medical attention, Allen said.

The ramp was closed when the Berkeley County Hazardous Incident Response Team arrived moments later, he said.

Emergency workers donned "Level B" protective gear, on the order of heavy rain gear, and self-contained breathing apparatus to enter the trailer and assess the damage to the roughly 41,000 pounds of automotive batteries inside, he said.

While they saw a lot of batteries strewn about, only a few dozen of the 1,197 batteries burst open and were spilling sulfuric acid on to the trailer floor, which was leaking acid out onto the ground, Allen said.

To be able to clean up the mess without the heavy breathing apparatus, workers ventilated the trailer by cutting holes in its roof and sides and blowing fresh air in with a fan, he said.

They used special pads to absorb the spilled acid, reducing any environmental danger, Allen said.

Still, it wasn't a really dangerous situation, he said.

Dealing with battery damage is a routine part of traffic accident cleanup, Allen said. In this case, the damage was multiplied about 20 times, he said.

A small diesel fuel leak that developed when the truck's rear wheels were put back on was taken care of quickly, Allen said.

The ramp stayed closed until shortly before 1 p.m. so that all accident debris, hazardous material and a large amount of gravel could be cleared, he said.

Blevins was charged with failure to maintain control, Keller said.

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