A gasoline tanker smashed into a concrete center barrier and burst into flames Sunday, killing the driver and closing both north and southbound lanes of Highway 87 at Slate Creek.
At approximately 11:26 a.m. Sunday, a Kenworth tractor-trailer, driven by 48-year-old James Magierka of Glendale, overturned near milepost 228, causing it to catch fire about 20 miles south of Payson.
DPS Officer Seth Meeske said Magierka lost control of the truck, causing it to impact the barrier wall on the driver's side of the tanker section, puncturing the tank and leaking gasoline onto the highway.
The gasoline then ignited, spread to the tanker and caused the highway to be closed.
Magierka was pronounced dead at the scene.
Northbound lanes of Highway 87 were closed for about four hours Sunday afternoon, due to road damage, and southbound lanes were also closed because of fire and smoke obstructing travel lanes.
A DPS spokesperson said traffic in the northbound lanes was backed up almost all the way to the Bush Highway turnoff.
Southbound lanes were closed at Mazatzal Casino until they could be re-opened two hours after the accident, around 1:30 in the afternoon.
Northbound lanes were re-opened shortly after southbound lanes, following a safety inspection of the road surface by ADOT.
Robert Young, a former Gila County attorney, said he saw the same kind of accident at the same place on Highway 87 back in 1975.
Young said it was also a gasoline tanker that lost control and collided with the concrete center barrier and caught fire.
"I think it was a father and son who were in the truck," Young said.
Young said trucks hauling heavy loads experience brake failure due to what is called a decreasing radius turn.
He said the turn near milepost 228 on Highway 87, running along Slate Creek at the base of Mt. Ord, is a decreasing radius turn.
"They're hauling such heavy loads that they can't go much slower than 45 or 50 going down that hill, and their brakes heat up too much and then fail," Young said.
A motorcycle safety organization, msgroup.org said on its Web site, "The problem with a decreasing radius turn is that you can find yourself going too fast to exit it safely, even though you were not going too fast for the first part of the curve. That is, unlike a constant radius turn, there is not one smooth line through this kind of curve which has a single apex to it that allows you to pick a single stable lean/speed through it."
"The father and the son died in the accident I saw in 1975. That's a really long, steep grade running along Slate Creek. What (ADOT) should do is require that the truckers put their trucks in low gear when they are going down the hill," Young said.
Meeske said DPS had not yet determined why Magierka lost control of his vehicle.
The investigation is ongoing at this time.