Driver of fuel truck lived, died with risks

Accident: From a Glen Burnie terminal to a tank farm in Fairfield and a gas station in Bethesda: It should have been a routine run for a Finksburg man.

January 16, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai and Dan Fesperman | Athima Chansanchai and Dan Fesperman,SUN STAFF

Jack Frost called his wife, Geri, early Tuesday afternoon with some bad news. He had locked his keys in his tanker truck, he said. But not to worry. He'd soon be rolling again, and would see her that night.

It was 1:10 p.m.

A little more than three hours later, Geri Frost heard that a tanker truck had fallen from an overpass onto the northbound lanes of Interstate 95 and exploded, a conflagration into which four other vehicles disappeared. Traffic was backed up for miles.

She called her husband's cell phone, but it rang and rang without an answer. Around 7:30 p.m., while she was shopping for dinner, her worries got the best of her.

"I had a sinking feeling," she said yesterday, shaking as she told the story at the family's Finksburg home. "But our children have to eat, so I finished buying groceries." Her 15-year-old daughter, Jacqueline, began crying in the back seat as they drove home.

"I kept telling myself that he had come home so tired [that] he'd taken a shower and fallen asleep and didn't hear his phone," Geri Frost said, dabbing her eyes with the sleeve of a white bathrobe. "I got happy again thinking that's what had happened."

But when she arrived home, his familiar Ford pickup wasn't in the driveway, so she called the police.

"The police didn't know, but in my heart I knew."

Not until 11 the next morning, when a state trooper delivered the grim news to her doorstep, would her fears be confirmed. Her husband, Jackie Marvin Frost, 64, was indeed the man who had been driving the burned tanker, one of four people killed in the accident.

Frost and his rig, owned by Petro-Chemical Transport of Addison, Texas, are now at the center of the accident investigation headed by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.

Court records show that Frost was cited seven times by Maryland police for traffic or safety offenses since 1989, most recently a year ago when he was found guilty of a truck safety violation. In 1999 he received probation before judgment after a guilty plea for failing to obey roadway signs; he was found guilty then and in 2001 of exceeding maximum weight with his rig.

His 10-year record with Petro-Chemical was "exemplary," according to company President James Reid's statement to Geri Frost and other family members during a home visit yesterday afternoon.

Tuesday had begun like most working days for Frost, the family bread-winner. He woke hours before dawn, leaving the house at 4:30 a.m. with a lunch packed by his wife. Despite his age, he was healthy and vigorous, and he liked the healthy foods his wife prepared.

It was a time of hope and anticipation at the Frost household. Their "miracle child," Jacie, is now 3 years old, having been born not long after they moved to a bigger home on Cornstalk Road in Finksburg.

Their older daughter, Jacqueline, is expecting her first child, and Frost was looking forward to becoming a grandfather.

An Army veteran and a former golf pro, Frost grew up in Ohio, one of 10 brothers and sisters. A previous marriage while he was living in Tennessee produced four children, now adults.

He and Geri married in 1987, the year they moved to their previous home in Perry Hall.

After leaving the house Tuesday, Frost hopped into his pickup for the trip to work, a truck terminal in Glen Burnie. With traffic so light in the early morning, he generally had little trouble getting there by 5 a.m., when he would check his rig and the day's schedule, and chat with co-workers.

He knew that hauling gasoline was dangerous work, and so did those close to him.

"Anytime I hear of an accident involving a tanker truck on TV or the papers, I would wonder if it involved Jack," family friend Eileen Porach said yesterday, her blue eyes brimming with tears.

So it was little wonder that on Tuesday she thought of Frost as she listened to reports of the accident on her car radio, while on her way home from her job as a defense analyst at Fort Meade.

She had more than the usual amount of time to hear them because she was one of the thousands of people caught up in the ensuing traffic jam.

The ill-fated overpass on Interstate 895 was part of Frost's regular route. He picked up his tanker load of premium gasoline not long after lunch - and not long after retrieving his keys from the locked cab of his tanker - at a Citgo fuel terminal in Fairfield.

Fairfield is a dismal industrial enclave of tank farms, chemical factories and scrap yards, a place of battered, pitted roads where tanker trucks are as prevalent as SUVs in suburbia.

Frost's final drive would have taken him through the heart of this district, out of the Citgo terminal onto westbound Frankfurst Avenue, toward a sharp right curve leading to Childs Street, which climbs to the toll booths for the southbound leg of the Harbor Tunnel Thruway, or I-895.

His destination was the Citgo gas station at the Bethesda Naval Medical Center, one of his regular stops during the past five years.

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