Rolled Tanker Closes Beeline For 9 Hours


There was bumper-to-bumper traffic on Highway 87 at the Camp Verde turn off, a canceled town-sponsored trip to see the musical "The Producers," and varying impacts to business -- all ripples from the gas tanker rollover at the intersection of the Beeline Highway and Highway 188 Sunday. The accident closed the Beeline almost all of Jan. 19, resulting in wide-ranging repercussions.

The tanker truck, owned by Beneto Inc. of Sacramento, Calif., was driven by Christopher Smith of Chandler. A spokesman for the Arizona Department of Public Safety said Smith was possibly changing lanes when he rolled the truck in the northbound lane.

Smith suffered minor injuries and was taken by air to a Valley hospital, where he was later released.

The truck was damaged and about 4,000 gallons of gasoline leaked onto the roadway.

Cleaning up the leak, draining the remaining 3,000 gallons of gas in the truck and uprighting the vehicle is what closed the road from about 10 a.m. until 7 p.m.

The road closure resulted in rerouting southbound traffic to Camp Verde, then onto Interstate 17. Motorists heading north from the Phoenix area had to go back through the Valley to get on I-17.

The Payson Fire Department responded with three units and 13 personnel, both the Diamond Star and Whispering Pines Fire Districts also sent water tender trucks to the scene. The DPS Hazmat Team, the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality and the Arizona Department of Transportation all had representatives on the scene. Law enforcement officers from DPS, the Gila County Sheriff's Department, the Tonto Apache Tribal Police and the Payson Police Department, as well as posse members and other volunteers were involved in traffic control.

According to Payson Fire Chief John Ross, the first Payson fire unit was on the scene 14 minutes after being dispatched at 9:58 a.m.

The PFD put down foam on the gas spill and also took preventative measures in the event of a grass fire.

He said ADOT put a sand dike around the spill area to limit the flow, and 1,200 gallons of water was used to clean the spill.

Ross said the fire units and personnel stood by while the trucking company's own hazmat people fed a line into the tanker to drain the remaining gas. When the gas was pulled from the tanker, the vehicle was put upright, Ross said.

The road was not reopened until the fire department tested the air with its Four Gas Meter to determine the level of fumes. Ross said there was about a 12mph wind and it was relatively cool, which aided in the dispersal of the gas fumes.

"Through the whole incident, the fumes remained very low," Ross said.

He said the level of cooperation and efficiency of all the personnel and agencies involved was outstanding.

"All the agencies played a significant role in mitigating what could have been a very serious incident," Ross said.

As for that ripple effect, several businesses saw an increase in traffic because of the road closure.

An employee at Macky's said that business was so good, it made up for some of the recent slow times. Payson's Motel 6 saw a small increase in guests. People would rather stay overnight in town than make the trip home the long way around, a spokesperson at the motel said.

A few diehard theater-goers who had signed up for the Payson Parks and Recreation Department's bus trip to see "The Producers" opted to make the long trip. According to Michelle Beach, special events coordinator, nine of the 50 people who signed up for the trip, took their tickets and went down to the production anyway.

"We stood in the parking lot to tell people the trip was canceled as they drove up," Beach said. The tour had been scheduled to leave at 11:45 a.m. Beach said she is trying to reschedule the trip.

The accident is still being investigated, according to a DPS spokesman.

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