Overpass collapses in fire

Oakland, Calif., crash to cripple commute in the Bay Area

April 30, 2007|By New York Times News Service

OAKLAND, Calif. -- A fiery pre-dawn tanker truck accident caused the collapse of a heavily trafficked freeway overpass near downtown yesterday, sending hundreds of feet of concrete crashing onto a highway below and hobbling a vital Bay Area interchange.

The driver of the truck, which was carrying 8,600 gallons of gasoline, was hospitalized with second-degree burns. No other injuries were reported from the accident, which occurred at 3:42 a.m.

But even as the fire smoldered, transit officials said the accident could complicate the lives of commuters for months.

"It will make for a long trip," said Will Kempton, the director of Cal Trans, the state transportation agency.

The accident occurred in the very heart of a cloverleaf known as the MacArthur Maze, where several major arteries converge at the approach to the Bay Bridge, which connects San Francisco to the cities and suburbs on the east side of San Francisco Bay.

The California Highway Patrol identified the driver as James Mosqueda, 51, from Woodland, Calif., near Sacramento. Officer Trent Cross, a spokesman for the highway patrol, said Mosqueda had just picked up the gasoline from a refinery and was headed to a gas station near the Oakland airport when the accident occurred.

The highway patrol believes that Mosqueda was heading south on an interchange of Interstate 80 when he lost control in a curve, hit a guardrail and flipped the truck on its side. The tanker exploded, which sent flames hundreds of feet into the air, according to witnesses. The fire quickly buckled a three-lane section of Interstate 580 and caused it to collapse onto Interstate 880 about 30 feet below.

Michael Brown, the commissioner of the highway patrol, said the driver was able to escape the burning truck, and he apparently hailed a cab to go to the hospital. Brown said there was "no indication of impairment of the driver" by drugs or alcohol, but that some legal issues are outstanding for both Mosqueda and the truck's owner, Sabek Transportation, based in San Francisco.

For some Bay Area residents, the accident evoked memories of the 1989 Loma Prieta earthquake, which caused the collapse of a mile-long, double-decker section of I-880 near the site of yesterday's accident. That collapse, which occurred during the evening rush hour, resulted in 41 deaths and more than 100 injuries, as cars on the lower level were crushed.

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