Metro

Fatal tanker crash shuts down Route 24 in Fall River for hours; southbound side reopened

WBZ TV

Route 24 in Fall River was closed for several hours Thursday following a crash that killed the driver of a tanker truck hauling 12,000 gallons of gasoline, while firefighters safely extricated a man from a second mangled vehicle.

The left lane on Route 24 northbound has since been reopened, State Police said in a tweet at 12:40 p.m. The right lane and ramp from Airport Road to Route 24 northbound remains closed. The southbound lanes are open.

The crash on the highway, a major connector between southeast Massachusetts and the Boston area, took place around 5 a.m. in the northbound lanes near Exit 8 — the Airport Road exit — and involved two vehicles.

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Fearing the fuel could ignite, authorities closed the highway in both directions at that time. The southbound side of the highway was opened to traffic around 1:25 p.m., but a section of the northbound side remained closed for cleanup as crews were working to remove leftover fuel, foam, and sand that was still on the road. The truck was removed using a crane, according to Fall River Fire Captain Neil Furtado.

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Fall River Fire Chief John Lynch said the first arriving crews quickly began spraying the truck with fire suppressant foam, fearing spilled gasoline would suddenly ignite.

Lynch said arriving firefighters spotted the truck driver, whom he described as a 67-year-old man, lying on the roadway near the truck and moved his body away from the vehicle amid fears the gas fumes would ignite.

The truck was leaking gasoline at the rate of about a half-gallon per minute, spewing up to 200 gallons of fuel on the highway. Lynch said firefighters quickly erected sand berms that prevented the fuel, a pollutant, from entering nearby storm drains.

Firefighters then turned their attention to the second vehicle involved, one that was so mangled that Lynch could not tell what kind of vehicle it was. He said firefighters had to extricate the second person from the vehicle and were surprised to see that he was still alive.

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“When they cut him out of the car, they were very surprised,” Lynch said.

He was rushed to Rhode Island Hospital for treatment of significant injuries. Lynch said he was in stable condition.

The cause of the crash remains under investigation by State Police.

“We don’t know what happened,” Lynch said.

Lynch said the crash had the potential for a major incident given the gas the truck was hauling, the gas spilled onto the roadway, and the ignitable fumes that gathered at the scene.

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“It probably could have been much, much worse,’’ he said at a press conference at fire department headquarters.

The deceased victim’s name was withheld pending family notification.

Travis Andersen of the Globe Staff contributed to this report. John R. Ellement can be reached at ellement@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @JREbosglobe.