A central Iowa highway was closed today (Wednesday) by a semi rollover, that had a driver watching his son’s rig tumbling off the highway and spewing a load of ethanol as it rolled through sparks from a downed powerline. State Patrol Sergeant Bill Hon says a little before 10-30, the tanker was rounding what locals call the “Angus Curve” on Highway 141 near Perry, in southern Boone County.
Investigators say there’s some indication it may have been a mechanical problem — that one of the axles under the tanker-trailer broke loose and that’s what made the vehicle roll off the highway at the curve. The driver, 27-year-old Brian Sjostrand of Hartsburg, Missouri, was flown to a Des Moines hospital for observation, apparently didn’t suffer serious injuries. He had some scalp injuries and it looked to rescuers like he might have an ankle injury, though that could have been just the way it looked when they found hanging upside-down in the cab. When they took him out, the driver was alert and able to talk to his rescuers.
When the truck went off the roadway it hit a utility pole as it went tumbling into a farmer’s field. Sparks were coming off the powerline, and the tanker’s load of ethanol fuel was spilling out along with some diesel from the semi’s fuel tanks. Fortunately none of the fuel caught fire, so a disaster was averted.
The driver’s father, also a trucker, was right behind him when it happened.
Both drivers work for Midland Oil Company, they’d come to the ethanol plant at Gowrie, Iowa, loaded up with 75-thousand gallons of ethanol fuel, and were headed back down to Missouri. About ten homes in the area were left without power, and the sergeant says till the flammable fuel is dispersed, crews wouldn’t be allowed to repair the wire.
After some time for the air to dissipate the ethanol, the trooper said HAZMAT crews that came from Boone would also probably put fire-retardant foam over the spill, and cut holes in the tanker so they can pump the remaining ethanol into another tank. While it doesn’t pose the pollution hazard a chemical or petroleum spill would threaten, Sergeant Hon says the ethanol seeping into the ground does present problems for a plastic water pipe buried under that spot.
If the ethanol soaking down through the soil comes into contact with the pipe it’ll eat away the plastic, so the whole section of waterpipe may have to be replaced, the dirt dug up and taken to a disposal site, and there’s a chance crews also will have to replace a gas pipe and phone lines, too. He says there will be far-reaching environmental repercussions from the spill. Highway 144 is detoured and the trooper says anybody traveling north out of Perry in that area won’t find the road re-opened till at least after dark tonight.