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TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 20, 2007
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Firefighters, lower right, run for safety after propane in a gas tanker, which collided with a CSX train, exploded Monday while they were fighting the tanker fire near Lacon, south of Falkville. The driver of the truck was killed.
Daily photo by Emily Saunders
Firefighters, lower right, run for safety after propane in a gas tanker, which collided with a CSX train, exploded Monday while they were fighting the tanker fire near Lacon, south of Falkville. The driver of the truck was killed.

Gas truck hits train, explodes
AmeriGas driver killed in CSX collision, cause unknown; fire rages into the night

By Deangelo McDaniel
dmcdaniel@decaturdaily.com 340-2469

LACON — A propane truck collided with a train Monday morning, leaving the driver dead and stopping north- and southbound rail traffic in the area indefinitely.

Firefighters from nine departments and emergency officials waited through the day as 2,000 gallons of propane burned so they could get close to the vehicle.

At 10 p.m., about 11 hours after the collision, Morgan County Coroner Russ Beard said Amerigas employees told him the tanker, which was still burning, remained about half full. Beard said authorities did not expect to be able to move the truck for another six to eight hours.

Eric Vinson, a father of two from Jasper, was driving the truck that erupted in flames after the collision at the CSX crossing on Wilhite Road.

"We can't account for Eric or his truck," AmeriGas Manager Larry Harris said at the scene.

Harris of Jasper and four other AmeriGas employees remained huddled about one-half mile from the crash site throughout the day.

"We just need to know something so we can get some closure," Harris said.

Aerial photographs taken by The Daily confirmed the truck belonged to AmeriGas.

Bob Sullivan, a CSX corporate spokesman, said north-south CSX tracks going through Hartselle and Falkville would remain closed until emergency operations with local officials are complete.

"That has to be our first priority," Sullivan said. "We'll get traffic going as soon as we can, after dealing with the emergency issues."

He said he had no estimate on when train traffic would start.

Sullivan said the train had two locomotives and 55 cars. It was headed from Indianapolis to Birmingham.

Morgan County Emergency Management Director Eddie Hicks and Alabama troopers said it may be a while before they can determine what caused the accident.

The CSX crossing is at the bottom of a steep hill on
Wilhite Road. There were no skid marks on the road at the crossing and the crossing arms were not damaged.

Because the road is so narrow, one emergency official said, it would be impossible for a gas truck like the one in the accident to go around the crossing arms.

CSX investigators at the scene were not talking to the media.

Hicks said the gas truck landed on the east side of the tracks about 1,000 feet south of the crossing.

"It was on the driver's side," said Mike McCurley, base paramedic supervisor for Air Evac Lifeteam.

McCurley got an aerial and ground view of the accident site. He said part of the front end of the gas truck was under one of the train cars.

"The cab was attached to the truck," McCurley said. "The red lights at the crossing were blinking when I was down there, but the guardrails were up."

Only the front end of the truck was burning when emergency officials arrived at about 11 a.m. About 90 minutes later, the truck exploded, sending flames about 50 feet in the air and burning woods east of the railroad tracks.

John McCrary 1 , who manages Hurricane Creek Park near the scene, said he heard the explosion from about 11/2 miles away.

"It sounded like a cliff had fell so we came down here," he said. "We're not used to hearing stuff like this so we came to see what was going on."

McCrary said he knew the driver of the gas truck and talked with him Friday.

"He has worked this area for about five years and came to fill up our tank at the park just last week," he said.

McCrary described Vinson as a "cut up" who was always talkative. "He was a real nice guy and he has run this area for a long time," he said.

After the explosion, firefighters used a remote water system to control the blaze.

"We can't put it out," Hicks said. "We're going to let the propane burn out and were putting a foggy mist on the vehicle to keep it from getting so hot."

Firefighters from several departments shuttled water to a drop tank. The water was remotely moved through a four-inch line and sprayed on the burning vehicle about 1,000 feet away.

Hicks said they did not have to evacuate any homeowners because there were none within the initial one-mile perimeter.

Investigators said they were not sure if the truck hit the train or vice versa. The front fender of the truck was under one of the middle cars and the two locomotives sustained no damage.

"The train did not derail," Hicks said.

Beard expected to return to the scene to investigate the death.

Online extra

Slide show of wreck site photos at www.decaturdaily.com.

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