Tanker crash and fire in Port Deposit

Flames shoot skyward after tanker truck carrying gasonline crashed and burned at the bottom of a steep hill going into Port Deposit Friday night. The driver was killed. (Photo courtesy of Mike Lipka Jr. on Cecil Fire Blog / August 25, 2012)

Port Deposit hopes to beef up traffic enforcement following Friday night's fatal crash and explosion of a loaded gasoline tanker truck.

Repairs to utilities and other cleanup activities were largely wrapped up by Tuesday in the town after a tractor trailer crashed and became engulfed by fire Friday night, killing the truck driver, a Maryland man, Maryland State Police said.

Mayor Wayne Tome said Monday he would be meeting with the Cecil County Sheriff's Office soon to help better enforce the restriction on trucks over five tons from entering the town.

"The rule has only been in place for three months," he noted. "We are trying to do our best to try to beef up the enforcement."


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Tome said many drivers think they can save a minute and avoid the toll on I-95 by cutting through Port Deposit, and they try to get away with breaking the new law, which Tome said will take time to get used to.

"It's kind of like with any rule," he said.

Transportation officials are also investigating the crash, about which the truck company, Coraluzzo Trucking Company of Vineland, N.J., had few comments.

The driver was identified as Brandon Logan, 35, of Windsor Mill. He had been making a delivery to a gas station in the Conowingo area, company benefits administrator Frank Peretti said.

Peretti said he could not disclose any more information about the driver's background or history with the company.

"It was very unfortunate. He was a very good employee," Peretti said.

He said the accident is undoubtedly not an isolated incident, as the company has been in existence since the 1940s.

"I am sure they must have had an accident like this," he said, but added: "This is not something that happens very often. It's a shock for everyone."

Fire companies from Harford and Cecil counties responded to the scene of the crash around 9 p.m. at the intersection of Main Street and Route 222 (Bainbridge Road), where there is a sweeping curve on a steep hill coming west from I-95 into the town, which sits along the shore of the Susquehanna River.

State police said it appeared the driver of the truck lost control entering the curve and the truck veered out of control toward the river, turned over and then caught fire and exploded.

One person who was driving down the hill on Route 222 within an instant of the crash, said she head several loud booms that sounded like explosions and saw a fireball shooting into the air.

Sgt. Joseph Comer, night duty officer at the Maryland State Police North East Barrack, said the driver of the truck was pronounced dead at the scene.

He also said no other vehicles were involved and no other injuries had been reported.

"The truck flipped over and caught fire," Comer added.

The fire was brought under control before midnight; however, Route 222 and the south end of Main Street remained blocked off Saturday and most of Sunday, as crews from the town, Delmarva Power and Norfolk Southern Railroad worked to replace poles and power lines had been knocked down by the truck.

According to Comer, the truck had been removed by a wrecker before 6 a.m. Saturday, but there were still poles and wires down in the area and some people in the area were without power most of the day Saturday.

The fire from the truck did not spread to nearby buildings, despite earlier reports to the contrary, Comer said. No other vehicles were involved.

Maryland State Police said the truck was carrying gasoline, despite initial reports from police that the cargo was propane.

"Things are getting back to normal," Tome had said late Saturday afternoon. "Utilities are still being restored."

Tome said he was glad no civilians were hurt and appreciated the efforts by people who helped out. He predicted things would return to normal by Sunday.

Tome said he was helping shore up a foreclosed house on Main Street when the crash occurred. Like several people in the area, he took a photograph of the fireball from the explosion with his phone camera.

The area where the crash occurred is at the bottom of a steep hill where Route 222 makes a sweeping curve north to become Main Street, which then runs through the town parallel to the east shore of the Susquehanna River. The town's Marina Park is also by the crash site, as is a freight railroad line owned by Norfolk Southern Railroad, which runs through Port Deposit parallel to the river.

The truck ended up near an open area between the road and the railroad.

Photographs taken Saturday morning showed bits of wreckage remained, and marker paint lines had been sprayed on the ground around where the truck burned. Trains were running again after being kept out of the area following the crash, according to state police.

Delmarva Power spokesman Bill Yingling said 148 customers lost power as a result of the accident.

The majority had their power back by 4 a.m. Saturday. All customers had power restored by 6 p.m. Saturday, Yingling said Sunday afternoon.

The State Highway Administration said Route 222 was re-opened by 6:40 a.m. Saturday morning.

Jay Apperson, spokesperson for the Maryland Department of the Environment, said Saturday morning that the department's emergency response division went to the site and found there was "extremely minimal environmental impact, limited to the burn site."

A person who answered the telephone at Coraluzzo Trucking's offices in New Jersey Saturday morning said there was no one around on the weekends to give a statement.

Fire companies responding to the fire included Water Witch Fire Company of Port Deposit and Community Fire Company of Perryville responded from Cecil County, according to Cecil Fire Blog.

Level Volunteer Fire Company, Darlington Volunteer Fire Company, Susquehanna Hose Company of Havre de Grace and Aberdeen Fire Department, all from Harford County, also send personnel and equipment to Port Deposit, according to Rich Gardiner, spokesperson for the Harford County Fire and Ambulance Association.

Friday's night's crash occurred along the same street where another tanker, carrying propane, went out of control on the steep hill coming down Route 272 on Aug. 14 and overturned at Main Street, before striking the corner of a waterfront condominium building. The truck driver was injured and the building was damaged, but emergency personnel were able to avert an explosion and no one else was injured.

The potential danger posed by accidents involving heavy trucks, as well as trains, many carrying hazardous materials, is a situation Port Deposit's 700 residents have long learned to accept as a condition of living there. The town sits along a narrow area between the river shore and a steep bluff to the east, with a major freight railroad line and a state highway running through it from end to end.

As far as accident concerns on the particularly dangerous stretch of road where Friday's accident occurred, Tome said the town has "done what we can."

The town has "lobbied the state successfully," regarding speed limits, traffic signs warning of the dangerous conditions and attempting to get law enforcement aware of speeding commercial vehicles, the mayor explained. The problem, he believes, is that drivers are "not adhering to the signage."

"We encourage everybody to have awareness," Tome said.

'Bad, real bad'

Tammy Fitzgerald, who lives on Main Street in Port Deposit, didn't see the crash, but she and her husband were coming into town within minutes, seconds even, of it happening.

"It was bad, real bad," Fitzgerald said around midnight Friday.

"We were coming down [Route] 222 into town. There were two pickup trucks ahead of us that stopped," Fitzgerald, who was driving, said. "I saw lights, but I thought maybe something happened and [fire] trucks were already down there. The closer we got I could hear a boom."

The driver front of them turned around and said, "It's bad, it's bad," she said.

Fitzgerald, who works for the Harford County State's Attorney's Office at the Family Justice Center in Bel Air, said she stood there for a minute then wondered if anyone had called 911 and decided to call herself. 

She said she started to go down Route 222 to where it meets Main Street at the curve and that's when she realized there was fire.

"It was a gigantic fireball. Flames were going up the sides of the radio tower on the corner. As I came around the curve, I heard two more booms and realized the power lines were on fire," she said.

There is a house and trailer on the corner of the curve. Fitzgerald and her husband thought they were empty, but they weren't 100 percent sure and wanted to be able to help if someone was living in either.

Her husband was going down toward the homes through weeds and along a tree line to stay as far away from fire as he could, she said. Another man who was ahead of her husband was running back up the hill yelling "go, go, go," she said.

"As my husband started back up hill, I heard the biggest explosion that I had heard up to that point," Fitzgerald said. "I actually could feel the heat off that one. My husband said in the moment he thought he was a goner."

That was about the time they saw the first emergency vehicle responding.

"It's so incredibly sad for whoever was in that truck, if he really didn't get out," she said.

As Fitzgerald and her husband were heading back to their van, another tanker truck was coming down the hill, and all they could think of was that they had to stop it before it ran "down around the curve and into the huge fire," whose flames she said had to be at least three stories in the air.

Having just gone through an eerily similar experience not 10 days earlier, Fitzgerald was concerned about getting to her house, so after warning several cars not to go into town, she and her husband turned around to try and get back into town on Route 276, "before they shut everyone down." 

"It's so bizarre for all this to happen in such a short period of time. People drive way too fast, just way too fast. You're coming down that hill on 222 at Main at the marina. At least several times a week someone is coming in my lane around that curve," she said.

"I hope all the firefighters are OK. It's going to a long night for them again," she added.

'Horrific ball of fire'

Harford County Councilwoman Mary Ann Lisanti was having dinner with her boyfriend at a restaurant on Main Street when the lights went out in the restaurant.

"I thought it was a normal power outage," Lisanti, who lives on the opposite side of the river in Havre de Grace, said Saturday morning. Soon, the wait staff was putting candles on the tables. "About that time someone came in and said a house was on fire down the street," she said.

Lisanti and her boyfriend went outside to have a look and were in disbelief at what they saw.

"It was the most enormous red ball of fire, a horrific ball of fire," she said. "It was shooting four stories into the air and not just straight up, but from the sides."

More people began pouring out from the restaurants and stood around Main Street watching the fire.

"It was one of those situations, just by the nature of the colors and intensity of the heat, I know it wasn't a regular house fire," Lisanti said.

The councilwoman and other patrons began spreading the word that there was a dangerous situation and everyone should get out of the area.

A few good Samaritans were getting people out of restaurants, as the town was still pitch dark, and others directed traffic to clear the way for emergency vehicles and get people out safely, Lisanti said.

Amid the craziness, most people kept their composure and didn't panic, she added.

"I've been in a lot of emergency situations," Lisanti said. "You react. You don't panic. My instinct was to make sure everyone around me was safe and recognized the presence of danger."