DPS: Driver ran stop sign, causing fatal crash


by JESSICA VESS / KVUE News and Photojournalists KENNETH NULL and JOHN FISHER

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Posted on March 28, 2012 at 5:10 AM

Updated Wednesday, Mar 28 at 11:32 AM

SOUTHEAST TRAVIS COUNTY -- The Texas Department of Public Safety is leading the investigation into a fatal overnight crash in Southeast Travis County involving a tanker truck filled with fuel and a small, red BMW car.

Sgt. Dane Baker of DPS says investigators have determined the driver of the BMW ran a stop sign and flashing red light at the intersection of Maha Loop Road and the 130 toll frontage road heading westbound. He did so as the driver of a tanker truck crossed the intersection heading southbound on the frontage road. Baker says the driver in the truck had the right-of-way.
The impact spun the truck out of control.
“It started to side-skid and then the truck went into the ditch and when it entered the ditch in the soft dirt it caught and then the trailer spun in a counter-clockwise direction and went ahead of the truck,” explained Sgt. Baker. “After that the trailer carried the truck back onto the service road and it flipped over on its side and caught fire.”
The entire tanker was filled with gasoline. It ignited immediately. As the fuel spilled the flames spread. Firefighters were forced to let it burn out. The driver inside died immediately.
The man and woman inside the car survived. AFD Battalion Chief Palmer Buck says first responders found the driver of the car walking around in a daze. They found a female passenger of the car in a nearby ditch. The driver described pulling the woman, identified as his mother, out of the crushed vehicle.
“He drug her out of the car to get her out, put her in the ditch,” said Buck. “Pretty nightmarish scene, flaming fuel everywhere. He said his mother, the passenger, was trapped inside the vehicle.”  
Paramedics transported both the man and his mother to University Medical Center Brackenridge according to Buck. DPS says the driver has since been treated and released. His mother suffered serious injuries. They are not considered life threatening. Investigators are interviewing them as witnesses. Sgt. Baker says the driver could be charged.
“Due to the fact that the truck tractor, semi-trailer has no stop sign, has no reason to stop, it’s a flashing yellow light. He has the right-of-way,” explained Sgt. Baker. “It’s under continued investigation. We have to continue doing everything we can to make sure every question is answered. There will be a forensic map done and then there’s going to be interviews and witness statements.”
It took several hours for the fuel to burn out. Another several hours passed before a tow truck moved in to haul the car away. Crews had to use a small bulldozer and a flatbed truck to clean up and haul away charred remnants of the tanker truck.
The fire damaged part of the road. Sgt. Baker says it will need repair before it's opened again to traffic.
“Due to the heat there’s concern with integrity of the roadway,” said Sgt. Baker. “They’re going to scrap up that part and repave any part that needs to be fixed and make sure it’s safe for travel.”  
Crews with the Austin Watershed Protection also need to test the soil and waterway there.
“Any time you have a hazmat spill we’re going to take every precaution,” said Sgt. Baker.
A spokesperson with Austin Watershed Protection said Wednesday that crews are on standby. They will measure to see how far and how deep the fuel may have spread. They believe most burned out in the fire. Absorbent booms are out to soak up any leftovers. The spokesperson said the company that owns the truck is taking responsibility for the cleanup expenses.
Sgt. Baker estimates the road repairs and clean up will be complete Wednesday afternoon. He says the road could open to traffic as soon as 4 p.m.
Neither the passenger nor the driver of the car involved in the crash have been identified by DPS. The identity of the driver of the tanker truck also remains unknown. His body is currently at the Travis County Medical Examiner’s Office.