CHICOPEE, Mass. – A truck driver was critically burned after his fuel tanker rolled over and exploded in a fiery wreck that shut down Interstate 91 in Chicopee on Friday.
The driver was initially trapped in the cab after the 9:30 a.m. crash. Witnesses told The Republican of Springfield that more than a dozen drivers pulled over to try to free the man, some carrying blankets and jackets to smother the flames.
"They were trying to get him out of the cab, but everybody who tried would be stopped by the flames," said Gregory Coleman of Westfield. "There were just a bunch of people running towards the fire. It was crazy."
Coleman's sister, Rebecca Colemen of Chicopee, said the tanker then exploded.
"The explosion just rocked the whole bridge," she said. "The car bounced."
The driver was eventually rescued and taken to an area hospital. The Republican reported he suffered third-degree burns over much of his body
State police said the accident happened after Victor Aponte, 35, of Holyoke got onto the highway, lost control of his car and careened across the road, hitting another car. Aponte's car then hit the tanker, which veered off the road, striking a guardrail and sign post.
The trailer separated from the tanker, rolled over the guardrail and down an embankment as the cab and trailer burst into flames, police said.
Meanwhile, Aponte's car was hit from behind by another car. Aponte's passenger Louisa Fonseca, 43, of Holyoke, was taken to a local hospital with minor injuries. No other injuries were reported.
The driver works for Abenaqui Carriers of North Hampton, N.H. The tanker was carrying 9,500 gallons of gasoline and 1,000 gallons of diesel fuel, the company said in a statement.
A spokesman for Abenaqui said he did not know the driver's condition.
"At this time, our immediate concern is for the condition of our driver and the well being of those involved," the company statement said.
A driver for the same company rolled over a fuel tanker in Everett in December, sparking a fire that severely damaged several homes and destroyed dozens of cars. The driver, Chad LaFrance, was not cited in that accident, said Corey Welford, spokesman for the Middlesex District Attorney.
After Friday's crash, diesel fuel spilled on the highway, but Judge said the accident happened in an area that is relatively isolated and that he did not expect homes or businesses to be affected.
The fire burned for more than 90 minutes after the crash, and smoke could be seen for miles. Charles Swider, a Chicopee alderman who was on the scene, said the blaze seemed to be "flowing like lava."
"It looked like the world was on fire," he said.