Tanker Topples On Highway, Temporarily Tangles Traffic

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A 40-year-old truck driver from Heber will be spending a couple of months at home with his wife and four children following an accident Wednesday that temporarily put him out of business.

The man, Craig Rutherford, slid his propane tanker off the shoulder of Highway 260 just west of Preachers Canyon, causing extensive damage to his rig and a temporary cash flow in his household.

"It was a really bad deal," Rutherford said Thursday. "A guy pulled out in front of me, and I had to do what I had to do. I basically lost everything I got. I've lost my livelihood."

Rutherford, an independent trucker, was heading from Heber to Phoenix to pick up a load of propane. Rutherford said he encountered a yellow Chevrolet pickup truck heading toward him in his lane near milepost 260 at around 8 a.m.

The trucker said when he saw the pickup coming at him, he eased over to the shoulder to get out his way.

"I went off the pavement. The lip of the pavement basically sucked me over and I got into the soft stuff," he said. His truck continued to slide around a curve, he said.

Another car was heading east, so he had to turn back toward the ditch. "Luckily, momentum kept me on the side of the road and not shooting back out into traffic," he said.

Rutherford had only minor injuries.
"He didn't get hurt in the accident really," Department of Public Safety Officer Bill Murphy said. "But when he crawled out of the truck, he was wearing shorts and got cut up pretty bad on the manzanita."

Due to the nature of his normal propane cargo, the Diamond Star Fire Department was called to the scene to stand by while tow trucks uprighted the rig.

"In an empty propane vessel, the product is all in vapor form," D-S Lt. John Wisner said. "Vapor is much more volatile than liquid."

That's not exactly true, Rutherford said, adding that propane tankers suffer from the misnomer that they're basically 18-wheel bombs.

"Those tanks are really sound," he said. "They're really a lot safer than a lot of people give them credit for. That's thick steel that those tanks are made of, so there wasn't any real danger of explosion. If it was a gasoline tank, then there would be that possibility, because those tanks are real thin metal."

After a brief closure of the highway while the tanker was uprighted, the trucker was on his way back home while his source of income was heading to Phoenix for repair. No citation was issued.

"I want to thank the emergency crews that were on the scene," Rutherford said. "They treated me really good -- didn't treat me like a criminal. (Murphy) talked to me a lot about not letting this get me down, not quitting the business just because of this."

Rutherford concedes that it could have been a lot worse.

"I feel like I did what I could, and came out of it pretty much smelling like a rose because I'm here with my family today," he said. "My truck didn't come out of it too good."

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