A tractor trailer carrying a load of gasoline crashed and became engulfed by fire in Port Deposit Friday night. Maryland State Police said the truck driver, a Maryland man, was killed.
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, 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.
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.
Comer said the dead man has been identified as Brandon Logan, 35, of Windsor Mill. The truck is owned by Coraluzzo Trucking Company of Vineland, N.J.
He also said no other vehicles were involved and no other injuries had been reported.
"The truck flipped over and caught fire," he added.
The fire was brought under control before midnight; however, at about 6:20 a.m. Saturday, Comer said Route 222 and the south end of Main Street remained blocked off and power had not been restored in the area of the accident, where 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 wires down in the area.
Early Sunday afternoon, State Police from the North East Barrack said the road still had not reopened and referred questions to the State Highway Administration. A spokesperson for that agency could not be reached Sunday.
The fire from the truck did not spread to nearby buildings, despite earlier reports to the contrary, Comer said.
“Things are getting back to normal,” Mayor Wayne Tome Sr. said late Saturday afternoon. “Utilities are still being restored.”
Tome said he was glad no civilians were hurt and appreciates the efforts by people who helped out.
The place 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 truck took down utility poles and lines and a streetlight pole before it ended up in an open area between the road and the Norfolk Southern Railroad's Perryville to Harrisburg, Pa., freight line, which also parallels the river.
Photographs taken Saturday morning showed bits of wreckage remained, and marker paint lines had been sprayed on the ground around where the truck burned. Poles and wires were still down, although 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.
As of 1:30 p.m. Saturday, all but three customers had their power restored, and Yingling said 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.
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 environmentall 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. Dave Williams, another spokesperson for the Harford association, said around 11:10 p.m. Firday that some of the Harford units were already returning.
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.
As both power and phone service were out along Main Street, and police had told her they didn’t know how long it would be out, Fitzgerald said she and her husband were going to a hotel in Aberdeen.
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 dies.”
More people began pouring out from the restaurantsand 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.
While on the scene, Lisanti’s boyfriend said he could tell it was a propane fire. He told everyone to stay back and clear the area, she said.
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.”
Friday's night's crash occurred along the same street where another tanker, also 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 says 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,” said Tome, who predicted everything would be back to normal by Sunday.
Check back with www.exploreharford.com for updates.
Earlier versions of this story incorrectly reported the driver's age and the contents of the tanker.