A 35-year-old truck driver was injured yesterday when the gasoline tanker he was driving struck a tractor-trailer and exploded in flames on U.S. 50 in Queen Anne's County, 10 miles east of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, state police said.
Vincent T. Bennett of Linthicum suffered leg injuries and was flown to the Maryland Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore after the 9:30 a.m. accident, which shut down a portion of U.S. 50 on the outskirts of Queenstown for much of the day.
The other driver, Theodore E. Drummond, 52, of Milford, Del., escaped from his flatbed tractor-trailer with a minor arm injury, police said. He declined medical attention at the scene.
Police said the explosion occurred when the tanker carrying a full load of gas struck the trailer in the rear as the 18-wheel vehicle pulled into the slow lane of eastbound U.S. 50 from the parking lot of Norton's restaurant.
The crash forced both trucks from the road, and the sound of the impact startled about a dozen breakfast patrons at the restaurant. Some went outside to see what happened but were kept at bay by heavy fumes and gasoline that spurted from the tanker, causing slick and hazardous conditions for oncoming traffic.
Angie McPhee, owner of the restaurant, said a state trooper traveling westbound in a cruiser along U.S. 50 slammed on his breaks when he saw the accident, abandoned his car in the median and ran to aid Mr. Bennett, who was unconscious and trapped in the wreckage.
Another state trooper joined the first trooper and together they -- pulled Mr. Bennett to safety minutes before the tanker exploded, Ms. McPhee said.
"There was a big boom and everybody ran," she said. "You could feel the heat on your face standing 100 yards away. The flames must have been at least 50 or 60 feet high. They were over the telephone poles and electrical [wires]."
Police evacuated the customers at the restaurant and at a house and another business as a precaution, while dozens of firefighters used foam to fight the flames that spread along the eastbound shoulder and into a wooded area near the restaurant.
An estimated 6,000 gallons of the tanker's 8,500-gallon load either leaked or burned, police said, before the flames were extinguished an hour later.
Police rerouted traffic onto Route 213 during the day until work crews removed the wreckage.
The accident remains under investigation and charges are pending, state police said.