SALT LAKE CITY — A dramatic early morning crash that caused a semitrailer hauling gas to ignite on I-15 — closing the freeway for hours — prompted troopers Friday to again warn drivers to always stay focused on the road.
"You never know when an accident's going to happen around you. It could be 1:30 in the morning or 12 in the afternoon. You've just got to be vigilant about your surroundings and driving in a safe manner," Utah Highway Patrol Lt. Danny Allen urged.
The crash happened about 1:30 a.m. The UHP said a 17-year-old was driving a Honda Civic when he swerved across all lanes of traffic from the far right to the far left, then back to the right side where he hit a concrete barrier, propelling the Honda into the path of an oncoming semitrailer.
The semi carrying 7,000 gallons of gas and 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel rolled, caught fire and was soon fully engulfed, according to the UHP. Both drivers escaped their vehicles and were taken to local hospitals with minor injuries.
The driver of the semitrailer, Spencer Powell, 41, of Bountiful, was taken as a precaution. The driver of the Honda, Gabriel Guenther, of Cedar Hills, suffered cuts and bruises, mainly to his face.
What caused the teen to leave his lane remained under investigation Friday.
Cleanup of the accident created a sticky situation for emergency crews.
"You could see the smoke for miles. Even in the dark, the flames were extremely large. The public, when they stopped in front of that crash, the flames were extremely close. We tried to get them back as soon as we could," Allen recalled.
He said as fuel started to cover the freeway, troopers had to move traffic the wrong way in order to get drivers to the nearest off-ramp.
"With the truck catching on fire, especially with spilled fuels and combustibles, it makes it a lot harder because you're not able to get close to the area," Allen said.
The freeway was shut down between 400 South and 2100 South for about five hours as crews from multiple jurisdictions dealt with the inferno. By 6 a.m., the southbound I-15 collector ramp was reopened.
A portion of I-15 remained closed for most of the day Friday. Utah Department of Transportation spokesman John Gleason said three lanes on southbound I-15 near 1700 South suffered extensive damage and crews spent most of the day repairing them.
While UDOT crews were on the scene, the storm drain on I-15 actually ignited because of the diesel fuel that had leaked out of the tanker, Gleason said. About 500 gallons of fuel leaked, according to troopers.
"I just learned that our UDOT crews must repair 12 to 13 concrete panels and replace 333 feet of concrete barrier. We will also assess damage to the drainage system caused by an explosion when gas from the tanker leaked into the pipes," Gleason said on Twitter.5 comments on this story
Allen said the explosion caused the whole roadway to shake.
Though the crash caused quite a mess, the lieutenant said it was lucky both drivers were able to walk away from the crash. Both were wearing seat belts, he said, which contributed to them escaping with minor injuries.
In January 2018, a semi hauling two tankers carrying 9,000 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel caught fire on southbound I-15 near 8000 South. That incident forced UDOT to close the road overnight to repair the damage the fire had caused.