Update: “I-15 reopens; tanker spill under investigation”

“Chemical spill stacks up I-15”

Union Tribune - July 22, 2004

Traffic is jammed for miles as toxic acids leak from tanker truck

By Gregory Alan Gross and Lisa Petrillo

ESCONDIDO – A chemical spill on Interstate 15 turned yesterday evening's commute into a nightmare – and it may not be over by this morning.

Traffic was backed up for miles yesterday as the California Highway Patrol shut down the freeway in both directions after a cloud of corrosive acid began drifting from an 8,000-gallon tanker truck. Officials evacuated about 10 homes in the area east of where the truck stopped.

Authorities described the chemical mix as a corrosive cocktail of hydrochloric, nitric and hydrofluoric acids with chromic acid mixed in.

"It's the most severe kind of chemical you could be exposed to," said Matt Streck, a spokesman for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. "The fumes are toxic to the lungs and could cause a severe reaction, and toxic to the touch."

It also could be toxic to the North County commute this morning.  With hazmat crews needing to clean up the chemicals – and officers trying to determine just how long and how far the tank had leaked – the freeway northbound could remain closed until 8 a.m. or later, said CHP Officer Phil Konstantin.

Southbound traffic will be diverted off I-15 at Gopher Canyon onto a frontage road and returned to the freeway at Deer Springs Road. Investigators were questioning the driver, who was identified as Terry Lynn Eshleman, 62, of Bellflower.  Hazmat crews had to pump 3,000 gallons of the toxic acids to a different truck.

Dave Bohorquez, driving north in his 1999 Volkswagen Beetle toward his home in Murrieta, was among the first to see what was happening. As the tanker truck cut in front of him on the freeway, he said, he saw thick green smoke coming out of it.

Then the acid splashed onto his vehicle as he drove alongside the truck. "The truck was just spewing it out the side, two feet wide," Bohorquez said. "It was weird. Smoke coming out everywhere."

After Eshleman pulled over and stopped, Bohorquez said he asked him what he was hauling. "He said it was just chromium, you could just go home and wash it off," Bohorquez said.

There were no reports of anyone injured or hospitalized after being exposed to the chemicals, but the CHP cleared the freeway for about a half-mile in each direction just in case, Konst antin said.

The spill reduced the inland North County commute to chaos as northbound traffic backed up from Deer Springs Road as far south as the Westfield Shoppingtown North County Fair, a distance of about 15 miles.

The jam-up worsened as some commuters turned around and drove the wrong way on the freeway, trying to get around the blockage. The CHP reported a large number of near head-on collisions – and an equal number of traffic tickets handed out.

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