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Driver in radioactive truck crash had alcohol, marijuana in vehicle, police say

Published: Sunday, Oct. 24 2010 4:23 p.m. MDT

GUSHER, Uintah County — A truck carrying radioactive material crashed early Sunday on U.S. 40 in Gusher.

The crash occurred about 4:20 a.m. when Christopher Newnam, whom authorities suspect was driving under the influence of alcohol, went off the right side of the road and struck a guardrail before overturning, according to the Utah Highway Patrol.

Uintah County Fire District Director Jeremy Raymond said the truck was carrying a camera containing a small amount of iridium 192. The radioactive material is used to X-ray pipelines and storage tanks in the oil and natural gas fields of the Uintah Basin, Raymond said.

"Nobody's been exposed or contaminated with radiation," said Raymond, who noted that the nearest house is a quarter mile from the crash site.

The camera was stored in a heavy-duty container meant to withstand high impacts, the UHP said, so none of the radioactive material leaked out. Some of the chemical used to develop the X-rays did leak, but it is no more dangerous than gasoline, troopers said.

The crash shut down traffic in both directions of U.S. 40 for at least six hours while firefighters from Lapoint, Tridell and Jensen, and crews from Quality Inspection and Testing Inc., the Louisiana-based company that owns the truck, cleaned up the site.

Newnam, 29, was taken to Uintah Basin Medical Center, where he was treated for minor injuries and later released. The Louisiana man was then booked into the Uintah County Jail for investigation of DUI, open container and possession of marijuana, said UHP trooper Rex Olsen.

The ambulance crew who transported Newnam to the hospital were decontaminated as a precaution, according to Misty Bruns, director of emergency management for the Ute Indian Tribe.

e-mail: geoff@ubstandard.com

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