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Port Deposit tanker accident Aug. 14 could have been worse, clean-up firm says

BY KAYLA BAWROSKI, kabawroski@theaegis.com

6:25 PM EDT, August 21, 2012

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It could have been much worse last week when a tanker crashed into a Port Deposit condominium building, according to the owner of the Bel Air company that safety removed the damaged truck from under part of the structure.

In the early afternoon of Aug. 14, Cowboy Dale Brown, of Maplewood, Ohio, lost control of his truck on Center Street and skidded into the Tome's Landing condominium building.

The 56-year-old man was trapped in the truck and was later taken to Christiana Medical Center in Delaware, after rescue personnel spent two hours trying to extricate him. Following the accident, residents of Tome's Landing and other homes and businesses nearby were told to evacuate to another part of town, and roads leading to the area were blocked and traffic was diverted.

The propane tanker came to a stop in the garage of the condo building, four inches from the electrical meter boxes, according to Chris Bruneau, owner of Paul Davis Restoration – Chesapeake, in Bel Air.

"Had the truck struck this portion of the building, the tank would have exploded," he added in an e-mail. "It was estimated by the Hazmat team, that if in fact the 9,000 gallons of propane had exploded, it would have destroyed everything within three quarters of a mile," Bruneau said Tuesday.

Paul Davis Restoration was called into the scene immediately after the accident, although Bruneau said they didn't return to stabilize the building until later that night.

At first, Bruneau said, Chief Richard Brooks, head of Cecil County Emergency Services, did not know if they would be able to safely remove the truck or would first have to extend a hose away from the building and burn off the propane.

With 9,000 gallons of propane, Bruneau said, the tanker was almost full at the time of the accident.

Later that evening, Paul Davis Restoration was called back in when a tornado warning was issued for Port Deposit and emergency services feared a building collapse or explosion, according to Bruneau.

Bruneau, along with a small crew, entered the building to start shaving off beams and pilings around the truck and to do emergency shoring of the building, Bruneau said. The building sits on pilings, with parking underneath, because it is close to the Susquehanna River and in the floodplain.

While they were investigating the accident, Bruneau said, they found the structure had not dropped onto the truck, but rather the truck had lifted the building by three inches.

The crew didn't finish up until 4 a.m. and throughout the process, a Hazmat team checked the area every 15 minutes with a gas detector to make sure there was nothing leaking, according to Bruneau.

Around 10 a.m. last Wednesday, Bruneau said, a towing company pulled out the damaged tanker and pumped the propane into another tanker brought to the scene. By 5 p.m., the building was cleared for residents to return.

As of Friday, Bruneau added, there was still a big hole in the garage wall where the tanker hit.

Accidents like last week's are not unusual in Port Deposit, according to Mayor Wayne Tome. The town has a history of trucks coming down the two hills that surround much of the town and getting into accidents.

Tome said he is trying to address what is an ongoing threat to the town and its residents.

"Over the last couple of years we've been able to get some regulations in place to try and control it," Tome said Tuesday.

These changes include a four-way stop the State Highway Administration created at Main Street and Center Street, as well as a policy that restricts truck traffic through the town over five tons if it's not for a local delivery.

That last policy has been in place for several weeks, Tome said, but is still not being completely followed.

"For years we've been plagued by truck accidents at those hills," he added.

After this last accident, however, Tome believes that State Highway Administration will look into increasing signage to keep trucks from coming down those hills too fast and reducing the risks.

In the past couple years, the truck accidents have ended with significant injury to the truck drivers, and in some cases, death, but there haven't been many which involve such injuries to other drivers or pedestrians, according to Tome.

For this particular accident, Tome praised the work of the unified command team handling the emergency situation, saying they worked "seamlessly."

"We've got it down to a science to be able to handle events," he said.