Fiery accident on I-95 halts traffic for hours

4-vehicle crash near White Marsh, 10-mile backup

November 21, 2007|By Julie Scharper and Jennifer McMenamin | Julie Scharper and Jennifer McMenamin,Sun reporters

A truck and a car caught fire after crashing yesterday on Interstate 95 near White Marsh - closing the crowded highway on the eve of what is traditionally one of the busiest travel days of the year.

No one was injured, authorities said, but traffic was backed up 10 miles as hazardous-material crews and other emergency workers tended to the fiery crash.

The accident - which occurred shortly before 2:30 p.m. in the highway's southbound lanes, just north of the Beltway - involved two tractor-trailers carrying cardboard boxes, a car and a sport utility vehicle, authorities said.

Hazardous-material crews from Baltimore County and the Maryland Department of the Environment were called to remove diesel fuel from the trucks' tanks, county fire officials said.

The occupants of the cars and trucks escaped their vehicles on their own, and none of them was injured, according to the county Fire Department.

"Given what this scene looked like and the magnitude of the accident itself, that is miraculous," said Elise Armacost, a county Fire Department spokeswoman.

A patient who was traveling in an ambulance that was stopped in traffic was taken by state police helicopter for medical treatment, according to the state police.

All lanes of the highway, northbound and southbound, were closed as a result of the accident.

Southbound traffic was temporarily routed from the interstate at White Marsh Boulevard and, farther north, at Mountain Road, state police said.

At its worst, the backup stretched 10 miles in the southbound lanes and to the Fort McHenry Tunnel on the northbound side, said Kelly L. McCleary, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transportation Authority, which helped divert traffic off I-95.

"I'm 78 years old, and it's the worst traffic jam that I've ever been in in my life," said Curt Harvey of Nashua, N.H.

He said that he, his wife and two of their children were driving to another daughter's home in Reston, Va., for Thanksgiving.

Stuck in the snarled traffic, it took the family two hours to go 18 miles. They eventually pulled over at a gas station on Pulaski Highway to use the restrooms and eat sandwiches.

"We're kind of not happy right now," Harvey said.

Greg Hockman of South Orange, N.J., hit the backup on his way to Richmond, Va., where he was planning to spend the night before continuing on to North Carolina for Thanksgiving.

He said he didn't mind the delay too much, though, and was using the extra time to catch up on calls with his cell phone - something that, he said, many of the motorists stranded around him also seemed to be doing.

"I'll be late for dinner," he said.

Armacost, the Fire Department spokeswoman, said the collision ignited a blaze in the truck portion - rather than the trailer - of one of the tractor-trailers and in the car. The fire was extinguished by 3:10 p.m.

It was fortunate, she said, that the trucks were carrying cardboard boxes rather than hazardous materials. She said she did not know whether the boxes were empty.

"In our region, that's a serious risk - trucks carrying hazardous materials moving up and down our highways every day," she said.

All but one of the northbound lanes had reopened by 4:30 p.m., and all lanes in both directions were open by about 5:30 p.m.

"It was a big accident," Armacost said, "but the biggest news associated with it was the backup on 95. It could have been a lot worse."

julie.scharper@baltsun.com jennifer.mcmenamin@ baltsun.com

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