Thousands of gallons of hot tar oozed down Interstate 90 Tuesday after part of a tanker truck flipped over a highway barrier and skidded several hundred feet along the freeway.
Although no one was hurt, the goopy mess and crushed wreckage blocked the eastbound lanes for eight hours.
Most vehicles were finally able to detour around the sticky mess. But hundreds of semi-truck drivers had to park their rigs at rest areas and roadsides around Coeur d’Alene to wait for cleanup crews.
The driver of the truck that crashed has had his driver’s license suspended in two states, Idaho State Police said. On Tuesday, Bryon Bevis, 36 of Billings, Mont., was cited for driving too fast for conditions and driving without a license.
Police were amazed that no one was injured in the incident.
“This was a very fortunate accident, even though it is an accident,” said Cpl. Douglas Orr.
“It was a break - divine intervention,” said Cpl. Jordan Ferguson.
Bevis was driving his truck west on I-90 from Billings to Spokane with two tankers full of hot tar. About 10:45 a.m. he came to a curve in the interstate just east of Coeur d’Alene.
“I felt a jerk and looked in my mirror,” Bevis said. He watched as his second tanker flipped over the concrete barriers that divide the westbound and eastbound lanes.
The tanker bounced across the two eastbound lanes and slid for almost 300 feet against oncoming traffic. It finally crashed into a concrete barrier on the south side of the highway, Orr said.
The tanker then skidded to a stop another 50 feet down the road.
Bevis slammed on his brakes but wasn’t able to stop his truck for another 1,000 feet.
“I was just praying that somebody didn’t get hurt,” Bevis said, still shaken an hour after the accident.
Traffic in the eastbound lanes was extremely light at the time. Although Bevis saw one car heading toward the runaway tanker, officers said it appears few vehicles had to swerve out of the way.
The tanker came to rest top down with its lid ripped open. Black tar gurgled out of the opening and flowed about 300 feet downhill between the two lanes of traffic.
The tank held 4,500 gallons of hot tar - 3,000 gallons of which seeped onto the highway. An environmental cleanup company from Spokane was called in Tuesday afternoon to help clean up the mess.
Officers were able to reroute traffic onto Coeur d’Alene Lake Drive.
But since semi-truck rigs are not allowed on some back roads used in the detour, they could get no farther east than Coeur d’Alene for about eight hours Tuesday.
“If you get frustrated it, just makes it worse,” said Ray Olson, a truck driver from Minnesota.
He was forced to leave his truck parked along I-90 not far from the accident.
One lane of eastbound traffic opened about 6:20 p.m. to let trucks through. But it was again closed about 8 p.m. for more cleanup work.
“I’m just sick to my stomach,” Bevis said Tuesday as highway workers started cleaning up the mess. “This shouldn’t have happened, this really shouldn’t have happened.”
Bevis said cracks in the mechanism that hooks the two tanker sections together had been welded a couple of weeks ago. He believed the welding may have broken.
Although Orr said the welding was done poorly, he said it appears the tanker broke loose only after it hit the concrete barrier.
“It’s just a basic ‘too fast for conditions’ accident,” Orr said.
Bevis said that several years ago he tipped a tanker over when he fell asleep at the wheel.
According to ISP officials, Bevis’ license was suspended in Washington because he didn’t pay a traffic ticket. His license was suspended in California because he failed to appear in court for a traffic citation, Orr said.
After 15 years of truck driving Bevis said he’s now thinking about getting a new profession.
“It’s too dangerous out here,” he said.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo Map of accident site